Ed.D. Degree Opens Unexpected Doors for Dr. Airica Steed

Raving Fan: Airica Steed
Laura Warfel headshot

LW Warfel

May 17, 2024 Academics, Alumni & Friends, Ed.D., Olivet The Magazine

Airica Steed leaning on railing

Her great-grandmother worked as a nurse midwife in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the early 1900s. Her grandmother and mother were nurses. She followed in their footsteps and became an emergency department and critical care nurse. But she believed there was still more for her to do.

After losing several family members to cancer and surviving two brushes with death herself, Airica Steed ’11 Ed.D. realized that her life was on a new trajectory.

“I put myself headfirst on a leadership path,” she recalls. “But I didn’t have the tools I needed to make the impact I wanted to make. I knew there were problems in our health care system that I wanted to solve. When I heard about the Doctor of Ethical Leadership degree program at Olivet Nazarene University, I realized that elevating my education would give me what I needed to disrupt a broken health care system.”

A Program and a Lifelong Learning Experience
Dr. Steed was a member of Olivet’s first Ed.D. cohort. A Chicago native, she was already familiar with Olivet and the University’s commitment to quality. In fact, several of her friends and colleagues hold Olivet degrees.

She was initially drawn to the Ed.D. degree program because faith is its starting point and focus. As she began the program, she soon realized that she was surrounded by like-minded individuals and that, together, they would be empowered as human beings and aspirational leaders during the coming years. 

“My cohort is like a family,” she says. “Shared faith, shared discipline, shared desire to find our purpose in life brought us together. There is also something special about being the first cohort. From the beginning, we were more than co-students. We were and are fellow colleagues. We continue to keep in touch and correspond regularly. We celebrate birthdays and accomplishments. We mourn losses. We keep one another motivated. My cohort is my personal board of advisers.”

A Conclusion and Many New Beginnings
As she was completing her dissertation on successful Lean system transformations in the health care system and preparing for her Olivet graduation, Dr. Steed was most surprised by the new status that her new degree afforded her. She was already working in a senior executive position and was the youngest vice president among her company’s 10,000 vice presidents.

“I started receiving job offers before I even had my Ed.D. diploma,” she recalls. “I even had offers for positions in academics, which I had never received before. Being welcomed into that world was truly lifechanging for me.”

Today, at age 46, Dr. Steed serves as president and CEO of The MetroHealth System in Cleveland, Ohio.She is the first female, first person of color and first nurse to serve as CEO. This public hospital system cares for all people, regardless of the color of their skin, where they live or their ability to pay. The $2 billion system is comprised of five hospitals, 40 ambulatory locations, a Level 1 Trauma Center, the MetroHealth Burn Care Center, and 9,000 caregivers and providers. 

Since taking on this leadership role in 2022, she has made intentional listening to employees, state leaders and the local community a top priority.

“I have always been a servant leader,” she says. “That’s a natural instinct for me. Through my ethical leadership studies at ONU, I learned how to come into my own as a servant leader. I have grown spiritually, personally, professionally.”

Dr. Steed also accepted some of those invitations to join the academic world. Since 2010, she has taught courses in nursing, health care management, business management, quality and ethics at a variety of universities, including Loyola University and the University of Illinois Chicago.

A Focus and a Plan
Besides work, family time with her husband, four children and two dogs gives Dr. Steed a sense of purpose and gets her up in the morning. She also loves to travel, explore, discover and learn. She appreciates all the rich experiences, personal and professional, she has already enjoyed and looks forward to what is still to come.

“I have put myself in situations where I shattered the glass ceiling,” Dr. Steed says. “What I discovered is that the ceiling is actually made of concrete. With my doctorate degree, I have shattered that concrete ceiling. I know where I am now is a calling that I’ve accepted. I would not have all of this without my Ed.D. from ONU.”

From Olivet The Magazine, Compassion & Conviction – Spring 2024. Read the full issue here.

Laura Warfel headshot

LW Warfel

Laura Wasson Warfel is a story gatherer, writer, editor, and follower of Jesus Christ. A good listener, she distills details into meaningful communications. Her greatest joy is to bring others along with her on her faith journey. In 2015, she launched More Than A Widow, a ministry to help widows live beyond the label and find their more.

Student on main campus wearing pink sweater and holding water bottle.

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