Specialized program helps Indigenous students enter nursing

Joy Nieminen, Native Nurses Entry Program (NNEP) co-ordinator at Lakehead University.

Indigenous nurses offer culturally appropriate care and are more likely to put down roots in their home communities

  • Encouraging more Indigenous youth to pursue a career in nursing has long been regarded as one way to improve health care in Northern Ontario’s First Nation communities, given that Indigenous nurses are more likely to put down roots in the community and understand the language and culture of their patients.
    Unfortunately, Indigenous youth don’t always have the required academic credits for acceptance into nursing programs.They might have a high school diploma, but they don’t always have the necessary science and math credits, said Joy Nieminen, co-ordinator of the Native Nurses Entry Program (NNEP) at Lakehead University.NNEP, as the name suggests, is a preparatory program for students who want to enter the Bachelor of Nursing (BScN) program at Lakehead University. The program’s mission is to “improve the health care of Aboriginal people by increasing the number of Aboriginal nurses who would provide culturally appropriate care. The Native Nurses Entry Program provides access to a baccalaureate nursing education for those of Aboriginal ancestry who do not meet the regular university entrance requirements.”The program is designed for Indigenous students who may not have a strong enough background in one or more of the four core disciplines: Chemistry, Math, Biology, and English. Science and Chemistry in particular seems to give students the most problems, Nieminen said.The course itself is split into two 12-week semesters followed by a two-week placement. Most students do this placement in their home communities, Nieminen said, which gives them hands-on experience and opens doors for them in terms of job opportunities once they’ve graduated from nursing.What makes this program different from other similar pre-nursing/pre-health courses is the Indigenous learning component.“We weave cultural education into our courses,” Nieminen said. “I try to have an elder in once a month. Delores Wawia, who is a professor emeritus at Lakehead… comes to our classes quite often and talks about cultural concepts like the medicine wheel.”Successful completion of the program with a mark of 70 per cent or higher guarantees acceptance into Lakehead’s School of Nursing, and 80 per cent or higher allows students the option to apply for the three-year compressed program.The NNEP program is open to anyone who self-identifies as Indigenous (status, non-status, Métis, or Inuit), including students from outside the region. Traditionally, mature students were the ones most likely to enter the program, though lately more young students are enrolling.

    According to Nieminen, NNEP is another option for students considering a college-level pre-health program.

    “A lot of them go to pre-health first. They think they’ll be able to handle college easier. There’s that stigma that, ‘I can handle college but maybe I couldn’t handle (the university-level NNEP),’” she said. However, many of those students would actually be better off taking the NNEP program, she said.

    Students have three years to complete the NNEP, so they can take more time if they need to improve their marks.

    The NNEP program offers Indigenous youth a pathway to nursing that wouldn’t otherwise be open to them. For example, Nieminen tells the story of one student who didn’t have much focus in the beginning, but buckled down as he progressed through the coursework.

    “A light bulb turned on, and he turned himself around – he worked really hard at the program,” she said. “He’s highly involved now in diabetes health… so it’s like a whole new world.”

    The program accepted its first intake of students in 1987 and will celebrate its 30th year this September. Mae Katt, one of Lakehead’s first Indigenous graduates from nursing, became its first director and helped establish the program. To date, 73 students have graduated from the NNEP and gone on to the nursing program.

    “You need Aboriginal nurses to go back to their communities,” Nieminen said. “With nursing the way it is in the outlying First Nation communities – a lot of times the nurses are transient, so they’re coming in and staying a while and then they’re leaving. It’s really good if they can have their own nurses that speak the language. If they’re Aboriginal and they’re committed to staying, then that improves health care.”

    Lakehead University undergraduate health programs:

    – Applied Life Sciences
    – Bioinformatics
    – Gerontology
    – Kinesiology
    – Native Nurses Entry
    – Nursing

Filed in: Education, First Nations Tags: , , ,

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