Pay It Forward, a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde that was made into a movie in 2000, tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who comes up with a simple but brilliant plan for helping to make the world a better place. He does favors for people, then tells them that instead of paying him back, they should “pay it forward” by doing favors for other people–who, in turn, will pay it forward to still other folks.

In 2006, Cynthia J. Hickman, BSN, RN, BCCVN, a case manager in the congestive heart failure unit at St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, received a $50,000 Johnson & Johnson Community Health Care Leadership Award for her outstanding community service in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As a volunteer in her employer’s “St. Luke’s Cares” disaster recovery initiative, Hickman provided nursing services to Katrina evacuees at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. The award, presented jointly to Hickman and St. Luke’s, had its own “pay it forward” component: The money was to be used to advance the quality of care in their community.

Hickman and St. Luke’s decided that a portion of the grant would be used to fund scholarships to help future nurses get the education they need to make a difference in the community. As a result, the Cynthia J. Hickman “Pay It Forward” Nursing Scholarship–the first scholarship to be established by a St. Luke’s nurse–was born. The scholarship, awarded to St. Luke’s employees pursuing education leading to RN licensure, provides financial assistance, mentoring and other support. Scholarship recipients are encouraged to “pay it forward” when they graduate. 

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The first recipient of the Cynthia J. Hickman “Pay It Forward” Nursing Scholarship, presented in July at the National Black Nurses Association’s 2007 Institute and Conference in Atlanta, is Lakeyna Nickerson of Pearland, Texas. She is a student at Texas Woman’s University.

For Hickman, who recalls her own experience of struggling to balance nursing school, family responsibilities and full-time employment, the scholarship named in her honor is her own personal way of “paying it forward” by helping fellow St. Luke’s employees who find themselves in similar circumstances. “My way of making the world a better place,” she says, “is to help others complete their education and attain their goal of becoming a registered nurse.”

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