MADISON, Wisconsin -Â Two faculty members at the UW-Madison School of Nursing have received a $1.3 million federal grant to develop a comprehensive system of support services that will help admit, retain and graduate 30 Native American nursing students over the next four years.
Audrey Tluczek, an associate professor of nursing, and Mel Freitag, the school’s director of diversity initiatives, will lead the project, called “Success Through Recruitment/Retention, Engagement, and Mentorship (STREAM) for American Indian Students Pursuing Nursing Careers.” The project aligns with a Wisconsin Center for Nursing goal of expanding the diversity of the nursing workforce to mirror the diversity of the population it serves.
The goal is based on evidence showing that increasing diversity in the nursing workforce improves access to health care and leads to better health outcomes for underrepresented groups, including Native Americans. Currently, the Wisconsin nursing workforce is 94 percent white, while the Wisconsin population is only 79 percent white. About 90 percent of nurses who provide services in Wisconsin tribal health facilities are white; the vast majority of patients are American Indian.
“This project is vital for the state, as we believe it can make a real difference in improving health outcomes within American Indian populations by increasing the number of Native nurses in these communities,” says School of Nursing Dean Linda D. Scott. “This grant validates the important relationships already forged by Dr. Tluczek and Dr. Freitag with Wisconsin American Indian communities. It reflects the UW-Madison School of Nursing’s commitment to admitting, educating and graduating students from diverse backgrounds in an effort to better serve all Wisconsin residents and eliminate the health disparities that many populations experience.”
Â All 12 Wisconsin tribes (11 federally recognized and one state-recognized) are federally-designated Health Professional Shortage Areas.
The grant, awarded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, builds on a previous community-academic partnership project among the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, the UW-Madison School of Nursing, and UW Population Health Institute, which was funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program. One of the objectives of that project, “Increasing Cultural Congruence Among Nurses in Wisconsin,” was to increase the number of American Indian nurses in the state. “This new grant will help us do just that,” Tluczek says.
“It’s been a privilege to be able to collaborate with and learn from tribal communities,” she says. “Working closely with our American Indian partners provided us valuable insights about the need for more Native nurses who can help develop models of health care that combine traditional American Indian healing with western medicine. Doing so holds great potential for improving the health and well-being of tribal communities. That experience also taught us much about the challenges that American Indian students and communities face and the role the University of Wisconsin-Madison can play in supporting these students interested in nursing careers.”
“We have visited tribal communities throughout the state to develop relationships and identify ways the School of Nursing can help expand the Native nursing workforce and access to culturally congruent health care for Native populations,” Freitag says. “We designed this program with our Wisconsin tribal partners to educate Wisconsin students to serve Wisconsin populations. We’ve been saying all along that this is the Wisconsin Idea in action, and it is. It really is.”
The STREAM grant specifically calls for recruiting more students with the help of a nursing-specific online recruitment tool, and yet recruitment is only part of the challenge, Freitag says. The STREAM program will also focus on retention and graduation. This involves providing structured support designed to address the specific challenges and barriers Native students encounter when attending UW-Madison.
Freitag says Native Americans, like many students from underrepresented populations, are more likely to face barriers and challenges on a large, predominantly white campus. Geographic factors also come into play for Native students, as Madison can seem like a very isolating place to them.
“The desire for a sense of belonging, or the lack of a sense of belonging, comes up with our Native students as it does for other underrepresented groups,” Freitag says. “Underrepresented groups are small groups in Madison, and Native Americans are the smallest of the small. It can be difficult for them to find and forge peer groups on campus and certainly within the school.”
To foster community within the school and on campus, STREAM will use traditional American Indian talking circles to provide student peer support. The program will also work to foster confidence by connecting American Indian students with mentors who are Native nurses currently practicing in Wisconsin. The grant proposal also calls for continued efforts to strengthen relationships with tribal communities through yearly Native Nations Nursing Summits, which Tluczek and Freitag have organized since 2015.