October 28, 2003

The Indian Health Service has awarded the College of Nursing at Montana State University-Bozeman $1.5 million over five years to help increase the number of Native American nursing students in Montana and northern Wyoming.

The program will award up to 10 scholarships a year to juniors and seniors in the college, which has made recruiting and graduating more Native American registered nurses a priority.

"We have adopted a 'whatever it takes' approach to create a learning community in which students receive all the help they can use in order to work up to their potential," nursing professor Kay Chafey said.

Chafey heads the federally funded Caring for Our Own Program (CO-OP) that recruits, retains and helps graduate increased numbers of Native Americans nursing students from MSU. The IHS grant will work in consort with CO-OP, Chafey said, by providing tutoring and other support services in addition to the scholarships.

"As Native American nurses graduate from the program they show other tribal members that while the idea of going to a university once may have been daunting, it is now a place where one can be successful," Chafey said.

Native Americans are the least represented minority in the health professions and yet come from a population that is among the nation's most vulnerable for premature death and disability, Chafey said.

MSU's goal is to make the total Native American nursing student population proportional to the state's Indian population, which is 6.5 percent. Only one Native American nursing student graduated in 1999 whereas 6 graduated last year. This fall, 30 Native Americans are enrolled in the college.

For more information about the IHS grant or the other programs for Native American nursing students, contact the MSU-Bozeman College of Nursing CO-OP at (406) 994-7684.

By MSU News Services