Native Americans consider nursing options, current crisis

Young Native American men and women from 12 different tribes throughout Washington and New Mexico toured the WSU Pullman campus and its cadaver lab on Thursday as part of the 7th annual Native American Summer Institute. The event, sponsored by the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/Washington State University College of Nursing, is designed to help Native American high school students explore the career opportunities open to them in nursing and the health care field.

It is hoped that many who attended will be part of the solution to the current health care and nursing shortage crises currently impacting Native American communities, as well as the nation.

The institute, which primarily takes place at the College of Nursing campus in Spokane, runs June 23 – 28. This year, the event drew 27 high school students – 22 young women and five young men.

Students participate in different classes and workshops designed for the first-, second- or third-year track, as one-third of them are returning institute alumni. Topics include first aid, diabetes, infection control, substance abuse, mental health, childbirth education, diet and feeding, vital signs and traditional medicine.

Second-year students tour local hospitals and “job shadow” while third-year students focus on community health with visits to local homeless shelters and lunch at the House of Charity. Additionally, students receive instruction from tribal elders and tribal health professionals. Students also experience campus life first-hand by staying in Whitworth College residence halls. Whitworth College is an Intercollegiate College of Nursing consortium partner.

“We introduce young people to the opportunities available to them through a career in nursing,” said Robbie Paul, the College of Nursing#s Native American coordinator. “They suddenly see the bigger picture and get excited about their own potential and the endless possibilities for their future.”

A number of students enrolled at the College of Nursing are Native American Summer Institute alumni who were inspired to purse a nursing career as a result of their experience.

Through mentoring and example, nursing faculty and graduates help students create achievable long-term goals, foster a sense of personal opportunity, and envision a chance to make a difference among their people. In addition, the institute has eight Native American nurses, two of whom are College of Nursing graduates, presenting a native perspective to the students.

“When students see these Native American nurses, they begin to think, #If they can do it, then I can do it too,#” said Paul. “By participating in the institute, these Native American nurses are making a commitment to the students and helping our program feed itself.”

High school students applying to attend the Native American Summer Institute are aware of the extreme nursing shortage in Native American communities. Estelle Mendez, a first-year Institute student from Mescalero, N.M., plans to become a nurse and take her education back to her people.

“Our hospitals on the reservation need more Native American nurses,” explains Mendez. “I know that I can make a difference taking care of my own people.”

Established in 1968, the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing is the nation#s first, oldest and most comprehensive nursing education consortium. The College of Nursing offers baccalaureate, graduate and professional development course work to nursing students enrolled through its four consortium partners, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Washington State University and Whitworth College. Each year, the College educates more than 600 graduate and upper-division undergraduate students and prepares more entry-level nurses than any other educational institution in the state. For more information about the Intercollegiate College of Nursing/WSU College of Nursing, visit the college Web site at

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