By Tim Leeds
A new program to help nursing in rural Montana, especially on Indian reservations, now has federal funding.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the Montana State University-Northern College of Nursing a $420,040 grant to fund its Rural and American Indian Nursing: Building Our Workforce project, also known as Rainbow.
"It's really a great thing. It's a wonderful opportunity for us. We wouldn't be able to do it otherwise," said Trish Goudie, dean of the College of Nursing.
The project will target Native Americans and others to be trained to work as nurses in rural areas and on Indian reservations, Goudie said. The college has already expanded its program, anticipating success in its grant application, she said.
The college enlarged its clinical space, creating room for 20 additional students. Goudie said the college has retained 10 more students in the second level of the program than it did last year.
"Enrollment is up in the program," she said.
A nursing shortage in the United States, identified as a critical issue by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, is particularly hard-hitting in rural communities, Goudie said. The shortage of nurses able to work in areas with cultural differences, like reservations, is even more severe.
Part of the college's project will be recruitment. Goudie said the college will increase recruitment of high school and tribal college students in the first year of the three-year grant.
The project will begin targeting middle school and elementary students in its second year, she said.
The college will also encourage graduates of its associate degree program to enroll in the bachelor's degree program for nurses, Goudie said.
Additional faculty will be hired to allow students to take the two-year program as part-time students, she said. The program can only be taken by full-time students now. The grant will allow hiring 1 additional faculty members.
The college plans to develop a course to train nurses to work in rural and reservation health services, Goudie said. The class, offered at the bachelor's level, would take students into rural areas and onto reservations for clinical experience.
Some training and experience in dealing with the cultures and special health needs of isolated rural areas and reservations is necessary, Goudie said. The special course will help prepare students to work in those areas.
The course will be developed in the spring and hopefully be offered next fall, Goudie said.
The grant also will fund hiring a full-time recruitment and retention officer, she said.
Retention is an important part of the project, Goudie said. The nursing college's enrollment of Native Americans has ranged from 5 to 25 percent, but retention has been a problem.
The project should improve access to nursing education and increase the numbers of culturally competent nurses to serve northern Montana, Goudie said.
The grant, one of 34 totaling more than $8.4 million, was from the Basic Nurse Education and Practice program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The college will receive $204,514 this year, the first of the three-year grant.