PULLMAN, Wash. – Across the United States, there are less than 20 Native Americans who have earned a PhD in Nursing. Robbie Paul, Native American Health Sciences director at WSU Spokane, is dedicated to increasing the number of Native Americans practicing health sciences in the Northwest.

Her dedication is one of the reasons that 25 high school students from 16 Native American tribes and 27 Washington high school students will complete an immersion experience at the Na-ha-shnee Health Science Institute on the campus of Washington State University over the next two weeks.

Now in its 17th year, the institute allows these students to “go to college,” learn about careers in health sciences, and meet Native American and underserved college students who, like themselves, have overcome obstacles and found their pathway to higher education.

Paul and other leaders from the Na-ha-shnee Health Science Institute have engaged with multiple colleges, programs, and institutions to provide a well-rounded experience that involves Washington State University’s College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, and College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as Eastern Washington University’s Physical Therapy program. Current WSU Native American nursing students serve as counselors, and faculty and University students offer guidance around applying for college and seeking scholarship and funding support.

“The real purpose of the institute is to show youth that they can go to college while connecting them with older peers who have done just that,” said Paul. “The counselors do an excellent job of breaking down the college application process. They are able to talk students through the emotions, challenges, and fears of navigating higher education.”

Students like Sequoia Dance are taking in as much of the experience as they can.

“I’m learning not just about health careers, but college itself and how I am going to live. It’s nice that the camp is two weeks because we get to really be on our own,” said Dance, who is a returning camper this year.

Traditionally offered exclusively to Native American high school students, the program was expanded last year to include students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Na-ha-shnee program partnered with Creating a Nursing Path, a program consisting of 27 high school students. Funded by a workforce diversity grant, Creating a Nursing Path is led by Janet Katz, RN, PhD, Associate Professor from WSU College of Nursing in Spokane. The purpose of this program is to address the need to graduate baccalaureate (BSN) prepared nurses from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Students will stay busy during the 12-day camp, set for June 18-June 29, by participating in a variety of activities, including:

  • Participating in a human anatomy lab where students will view cadavers and be able to touch different body parts
  • Participating in their choice of mini health care workshops, including Physical Therapy, Nursing, Speech and Hearing, Medical Doctor, Epidemiology, Pharmacy, Exercise Physiology, and Nutrition
  • Experience completing a “Pig’s Foot Suture” where students will use sutures to stitch up a wound
  • Mini Health Olympics where students will take their own vital signs after completing variety of tasks
  • Dissecting a large bug to learn lab science skills
  • Learning CPR and First Aid
  • Providing care to animals to promote interest in science

Break out workshops will encourage self-discovery and expose students to other aspects of college:

  • Healthy Diet
  • Pre-nursing advising
  • Scholarship and Grant research and writing
  • Cultural identity
  • PsychologyEthics
  • Substance abuse
  • Leadership skills

Paul reflected on the growth of the program and its impact on student campers.
“Three students from the 2011 Na-ha-Shnee Health Science Institute have been accepted to WSU, and three from the 2011 Creating a Nursing Path program have gone onto college. It’s a slow progression, but we’re moving in the right direction for these students and their communities.”

About Na-ha-shnee

The result of an earlier student leadership exercise to give the summer institute a Native American-sounding name, Na-ha-shnee is an amalgamation of the words Native American High School Summer Nursing Institute. It has no literal translation in any tribal language. Na-ha-shnee encourages Native American youth to explore and pursue a career in the health sciences while providing learning experiences with Native Health care providers as teachers and role models.

Participants in the Na-ha-shnee Health Sciences Institute represent the Spokane, Colville, Yakama, Snoqualmie, Puyallup, Lummi, Umatilla, Blackfoot-Cherokee, Shoshone-Paiute, Cherokee, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Shoshone-Bannock, Tlingit, Chippewa Cree, and Siletz tribes. They come from Washington and Oregon. Funding for the institute is provided by the Trude Smith Plateau Native American Fund, Washington State University College of Nursing, the Creighton Native American Fund at WSU, the Seattle Indian Health Board, Go-NASF, and ConneX from the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic.

About Creating a Nursing Path

In 2008, Hispanics made up 15.4% of the US population, but only 3.6 percent of the 2 million RNs. The goal of this project is to increase the number of disadvantaged graduates from the baccalaureate nursing program (BSN) at the WSU College of Nursing who are prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN licensure exam and practice in rural and federally designated underserved areas. The target population is disadvantaged students, including Latino and American Indian, from federally designated, medically underserved areas.

This project is supported by funds from the Division of Nursing (DN), Bureau of Health Professions (BHPr), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under D19 HP 19023, Creating a New Path: Preparing Disadvantaged Students for Nursing Careers, $894,550. The information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any official endorsement be inferred by, the DN, BHPr, HRSA, DHHS, or the US Government.

The Na-ha-Shnee Health Science Institute is made possible with support provided by:

About Go-NASF

GO-NASF (Growing our Own Native American Students and Faculty) is a federally funded program to increase the numbers of Native Americans in higher education and in health sciences research. It is a partnership between the Northwest Indian College, Northwest Washington Indian Health Board, WSU, and the UW. GO-NASF supports the Na-ha-shnee Institute through National Institutes of Health and the Indian Health Service support.

About ConneX

ConneX is a program that identifies young people living in the Yakima Valley of Washington State who are interested in health care careers. The focus is to motivate this diverse group of students to excel in school, their personal lives, to pursue higher education, and to eventually realize their goals of becoming health care professionals. Ideally, they will return to their communities to practice their skills. ConneX is affiliated with the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, a federally qualified healthcare center with substantial experience and investment in developing a diverse, culturally competent workforce of health professionals.

Washington State University Spokane

WSU Spokane is the urban campus of Washington State University, a land-grant research university founded in 1890. The campus features advanced studies and research in health sciences and health professions, the design disciplines, education, social and policy sciences, and science and technology. WSU is one of just 95 public and private research universities with very high research activity, according to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classifications. In addition, U.S. News & World Report ranks WSU as one of the top public research universities in the nation.

Washington State University College of Nursing

Founded in 1968, the Washington State University College of Nursing educates more than 1,000 students each year, one of the largest educators of nurses on the west coast. WSU offers nursing degrees at the bachelor, master’s, and doctoral level at five sites across the state of Washington. The college is active in research, supporting the health care needs of rural communities, and providing students with interprofessional and simulated learning opportunities at its five locations statewide.

For more information on Native American recruitment efforts occurring at WSU Spokane, visit the Native American Recruitment and Retention Program.

Alli Benjamin, communications & marketing manager, WSU College of Nursing,
alli.benjamin@wsu.edu, 509-324-7340