Montana State University

MSU receives nearly $1 million for program to help Native Americans succeed in nursing

October 14, 2016 -- By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

A student in the MSU College of Nursing Caring for Our Own Program practices with a fellow student in a simulation lab. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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BOZEMAN — A program at Montana State University that is designed to help Native Americans succeed in nursing has received a grant worth nearly $1 million.

MSU’s Caring For Our Own Program, or CO-OP, recently received a grant from the Indian Health Service worth $332,715 a year for three years. The funds will enable the program to support several additional students: CO-OP was previously supporting 21 students over three years, and with these funds it will be expanded to support 27 students over three years.

Started in 1999, CO-OP aims to recruit and graduate Native American nurses who will work in Indian Health Service facilities on Native American reservations or in urban settings. CO-OP supports both undergraduate and graduate students with tutoring and advising help, and through the program students receive financial assistance with tuition, books, fees and supplies. Many students and graduates also say informal support from CO-OP peers and administrators is crucial to their success.

“We are just delighted to get continued funding for this program, which has been in existence for almost 20 years now," said Helen Melland, dean of the MSU College of Nursing. "We are extremely committed to Native American communities here in Montana, and we're proud to say that of the nearly 100 graduates of the Caring For Our Own Program, an overwhelming majority have returned to their reservations to provide care."

In the nearly 20 years since its inception, CO-OP has successfully eliminated the ethnic disparity within the MSU College of Nursing, according to Melland. 

"A goal of this program has been to have the percent of Native American students enrolled in the College of Nursing to be the same as the percent of Native Americans in Montana -- 6.5 percent," Melland said. "We have now reached that goal."

In fact, the College of Nursing has helped to more than double the enrollment of American Indian students at MSU in the last decade. In 2004, 268 Native American students were enrolled at MSU; this fall, that number was 650, according to data from the MSU Office of Planning and Analysis. Further, data shows the largest percentage of enrollment of Native American students is in the College of Nursing.

Melland added that while the College of Nursing’s short-term goal for CO-OP is to create opportunities for Native American students in nursing, in the long-term its focus is on improving the health of Native American people in Montana by reducing health disparities. Studies have shown that a diverse health care workforce is critical to achieve health equity across populations, Melland noted.

“Ultimately, our focus is on improving the health of Native American people in Montana," Melland said. "Through CO-OP, the College of Nursing truly is committed to making a difference not only for our students, but also for our state.”   

Contact: Helen Melland, dean, MSU College of Nursing, (406) 994-3784 or