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Dancing in the RAIN: UND Nursing Recruitment Program Celebrates 25 Years

April marks 25 years since the University of North Dakota’s Recruitment/Retention of American Indians into Nursing (RAIN) began.

They say April showers bring May flowers, but for the University of North Dakota’s RAIN Program, April marks 25 years since the program sprouted into life.

The 25thRecruitment/Retention of American Indians into Nursing (RAIN) Anniversary was celebrated this year on the Thursday and Friday (April 21 and 22) of UND’s annual Time Out Week, which yearly celebrates education, diversity and American Indian culture.

“It’s totally amazing to see our alumni here,” RAIN Director Deb Wilson said. “It’s really neat knowing that they’re all successful, knowing that they’re helping to make a difference out in all our Indian communities.”

Family Reunion

Approximately 25 nurses who graduated from RAIN, in addition to former RAIN staff, gathered to celebrate the program’s history and success. The celebration included an alumni reception on Thursday evening, along with a full day of events on Friday, which culminated with a RAIN Honor Song at Friday’s UNDIA Wacipi (pow wow). And, although it was a celebration of a program, perhaps RAIN’s 25th anniversary could more accurately be described as a family reunion.

Courtesy Jackie Lorentz

Allen Demaray plays the flute during an American Indian blessing ritual as part of a recent 25th anniversary celebration for UND’s Recruitment/Retention of American Indians into Nursing program.

“(The students) end up being all your kids,” Wilson said. “It’s been an awesome journey and all these people are a part of it. They’re all my family forever, and I think they feel the same way about RAIN. It’s about family, it’s about being there—the good and the bad.”

The RAIN Program has been recruiting at UND since the fall of 1990 as part of the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines, using funding provided through the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to increase the number of American Indian nurses providing health care to Indian people. Since its inception, the RAIN Program has graduated 203 American Indian nurses at a baccalaureate level, 53 at a master’s level and one doctor of nursing practice. Additionally, 20 have earned master’s degrees from other institutions, one a juris doctorate, and five have earned Ph.Ds. from other institutions.

“It’s been a lot of blood sweat and tears,” Wilson said. “But there’s light and there’s joy at the end of that because you see them coming in as scared pre-nursing students… they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. It can be overwhelming for them, and so it’s RAIN saying you can do this.”

Courtesy Jackie Lorentz

Members of the UND campus community and alumni of UND’s Recruitment/Retention of American Indians into Nursing program, take part in an Honor Procession as part of a recent 25th anniversary celebration for the RAIN program.

Future Nurses

And in May, as the flowers begin to bloom and UND celebrates its spring commencement ceremony, RAIN will be sending six new baccalaureate graduates and one new master’s degree graduate into the field. Wilson and the rest of the RAIN staff say one of their greatest joys is seeing RAIN Program alumni working in Indian country when they are out recruiting for future nurses.

“(This program has) been a big part of my life,” Wilson said. “There’s no, ‘if I graduate,’ it’s ‘when I graduate.’ We’re in this together, and you’re with them through all the ups and downs and you’re there at the end when they’re walking across the stage.”

Carrie Sandstrom is a student writer for University of North Dakota Public Affairs.