UW-Madison School of Nursing recruiting Native American students

$1.3 million grant to recruit and retain nurses

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing has received a $1.3 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to develop a program to recruit and retain 30 Native American nursing school students.

“Having nurses who are actually members of a community is really vital to addressing the great health disparity that actually exists in these communities,” said Dr. Audrey Tluczek, director of the recruitment program.

Native American students are among the most under-represented on the UW-Madison campus. The enrollment of Native American students in the UW-Madison School of Nursing is no different.

“We only have one or two students per year who self-identify as American Indian, or Native American,” Tluczek said.

The UW-Madison School of Nursing is working closely with Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council to develop the program.

“I always say that you can’t be what you can’t see, and so representation really matters,” said Dr. Mel Frietag, diversity officer for the UW-Madison School of Nursing.

By recruiting and retaining 30 Native American nurses it would open opportunities for future students.

“If we can encourage 30 Native American nurses to be on the front line at Wisconsin tribal communities, I think it would really impact health outcomes that other programs couldn’t,” Frietag said.

One obstacle to retaining Native American nursing students is the cultural difference that separates a tribal community and a large college campus.

“I think it is very scary. You are used to, when you live on a reservation you are used to seeing people that you know and seeing people that look like you,” said Kala Kimberly Cornelius, a current nursing school student from the Oneida Reservation.

The funding from the grant will be used for financial support Native American nursing school students, but will also be available to develop peer support programs.

“Our program, we hope will provide them peer support and mentoring from American Indian nurses who have walked in the path they are taking by coming to our university,” Tluczek said.

All 12 tribes in Wisconsin are federally designated Health Professional Shortage areas.

While the majority of patients receiving care at Wisconsin tribal health facilities are Native Americans, about 90 percent of the nurses treating them are white.

“Our native people, they need to see native nurses. They need to see native providers and I think that will help them trust the health care system a little bit more,” said Cornelius.

The recruitment program will begin in January with a goal of graduating the Native American nursing students over the next four years.