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Reaching out to future nurses

SPOKANE, Wash. - This year marked the 10th in which Na-ha-shnee Summer
Nursing Institute has introduced high school students to a possible career
in nursing.

Students, 22 in all, came from 10 different tribes (Yakama, Spokane,
Muckleshoot, Tlingit/Haida, Oglala Sioux, Red Lake Ojibwa, White Earth,
Peoria, Lummi/Nooksack, and Tohono O'odham) to attend the one-week course
conducted at the Inter-Collegiate Nursing Center in Spokane. The program is
overseen by Washington State University and includes Eastern Washington
University, Whitworth College and Gonzaga University.

Robbie Paul, Nez Perce, has coordinated the institute and recruited
students since its beginning. A psychologist with WSU, she asks nurses and
nursing students to serve as teachers. "We want to expose kids to a health
career and nursing because we are facing a severe nursing shortage," Paul
said. "We know by 2008 we'll be short a quarter million nurses throughout
the country. It's just as severe in Indian country," She pointed out that
although American Indians make up 1.5 percent of the population, less than
half of 1 percent of nurses are Indian.

"We have to encourage our youth to go into a health career and [assure them] that yes, they can succeed. It also shows them they need math and
science. That's why I bring in the role models of successful Native nurses
who have completed their degree."

Tashina Nunez, Yakama, just received her Bachelor of Science degree in
Nursing (B.S.N.); another instructor, Lyda Nicodemas, Spokane, will
graduate with a B.S.N. in December. Crystal Stensgar, Colville, is another
instructor just beginning her quest for a B.S.N. this fall.

Paul has endowment money available for Native students majoring in nursing,
and will provide funding for five students in undergraduate programs and
two in graduate programs this fall. She also encourages students to go on
for post-graduate degrees because "We need faculty and we need Native
faculty to teach our prospective," she said.

The institute is one of a very few in the Northwest with this type of
program.

Paul commented that "in checking back five years, we found that 70 percent
of these students go on to college. I know of four who have gotten a
two-year associate degree of nursing and several in the pipeline who are
doing their nursing prerequisites. We have graduated 27 from our program
since I've been working here 10 years ago. They haven't all come through
this camp because some are older. Most of our nursing students are not
right out of high school, but are coming back after deciding they are now
ready to study."

Students attend the institute or go into nursing for a variety of reasons.
Nicodemas explained her motivation. "My grandmother, Mildred Nicodemas, has
been a nurse for years and years. She doesn't practice anymore but she's
been my inspiration for going into nursing." She added that she eventually
wants to give back to her community on the Spokane Reservation, but hopes
to first get a job in one of the larger hospitals in Spokane working in
either the emergency room or med/surgery floors to gain experience.

The institute involves more than simply health and nursing. For some
students it may be their first plane trip or first time away from home. As
Paul explained, "Another aspect is for them to live in a dorm, to have
roommates, to experience dorm life and dorm food - simply learning to
become young adults." Paul also provides instruction in harvesting Native
plants for food use and to treat illnesses and injuries.

And what does "Na-ha-shnee" mean? It's not an Indian word, but rather a
term the students of an earlier class derived which sounds Indian but
stands for "Native American high school summer nursing institute."