New program supports Native American nursing students

To help students pay for their education and get clinical experience, a nonprofit partners with a university and a hospital

Cheryl L. Mee, MSN, MBA, RNCheryl L. Mee has been a nurse for 35 years. At Elsevier, she focuses on helping faculty better understand and implement review and testing products. Outside of Elsevier, she is a volunteer board member for Americans for Native Americans (ANA), and her work focuses on supporting Native American nursing students in Gallup, New Mexico. Twelve years ago, she led the development of ANA's scholarship program for nursing students. Recently, she developed a new program called Expanding Horizons in Nursing, which joins the ANA, the University of New Mexico Gallup (UNMG), and Doylestown Hospital in Pennsylvania provide community service experiences for nurses in underserved areas in Gallup.

Here, she writes about their work and why it's important to support aspiring nursing students in the Native American community.

There's a reason few Native Americans are nurses and even fewer have advanced degrees in nursing.

Going to school is difficult for many underprivileged Native Americans because it prevents them from working and earning immediate income to support their families. Native Americans traditionally live in the "immediate," and a future focus is a new way of thinking for many families. Their community has a very high incidence of poverty, diabetes, renal disease and alcoholism.

Some students have no running water or electricity. Clinical sites are very far from home, and some students need to travel and stay overnight in a motel to accumulate clinical hours for their nursing degree. Clinical experiences are limited to the technology of the surrounding facilities.

To help Native Americans get the training they need to pursue nursing careers, the Americans for Native Americans (ANA) has created a program called Expanding Horizons in Nursing.

<strong>Expanding Horizons in Nursing participants</strong> (left to right): Michelle Kellywood-Yazzie, RN, MSN, UMNG faculty and ANA Board Member; Barbara Taubenberger RN, MSN, CEN, Director Emergency Services, Doylestown Hospital and ANA Board member, UNMG; Students: Dacia Cunejo, Letecia Williams, Andrea Barry, Gwen Sorrell, Onia Martin, back right Sheldon Lester, on left Cheryl L Mee, MSN, MBA, RN, Elsevier employee and ANA Board Member, and Mary Lee Reiff, ANA Secretary.

ANA was formed in the early 1990s to provide blankets to Native Americans, who were freezing to death without electricity or heat supplies. From there, the group has expanded to help with food for children and families, clothing, school supplies, veterinary care and nursing student support.

The nursing student program has supported underprivileged Native American nursing students for over 12 years with scholarships for associate degree nursing education and fees for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Students often delay taking the NCLEX board exam due to a lack of funds, which in turn can decrease their chances of passing it.

Native American students in need of assistance are identified in conjunction with the financial aid department of the University of New Mexico Gallup (UNMG).

Michelle Kellywood-Yazzie (center) poses with colleagues (from left to right): Clare Landavazo, school counselor and contact for service project; Cheryl Mee, MSN, MBA, RN; Michelle Kellywood-Yazzie, RN, MSN; Dottie Prior, BSN, RN, CEN; and Kim Mikula, BSN, RN, CEN.Most recently, ANA has been supporting a Native American nurse in her pursuit of a PhD. Michelle Kellywood-Yazzie, RN, MSN, is a PhD candidate and nursing faculty member at UNMG and a role model for students. Her interests lie in improving health policy for Native Americans. Recently she became a member of the ANA Board along with Barbara Taubenberger, RN, MSN, CEN, Director of Emergency Services at Doylestown Hospital, expanding the nursing representation on the board.

The organization has provided $90,000 in support for students over the past decade.

Expanding Horizons in Nursing clinical experience

Early this year, we launched a program called Expanding Horizons in Nursing. This program selects Native American nursing students and provides a clinical experience at a large hospital, where students gain experience in clinical situations that are not available to them where they live.

Our aim is to inspire Native American nursing students to continue their education to better serve their communities' healthcare needs, ultimately providing culturally competent care to the underserved population of Native Americans in the Gallup area.

Six students are selected based on a rubric the university developed that includes academic performance and an essay about why they want to participate and what they want to gain from the experience.

The students attend a week-long intensive clinical experience at Doylestown Hospital in Pennsylvania, gaining knowledge in clinical areas that students did not have the ability to attend in the Gallup area. Students work one-on-one with expert clinicians in new settings. This tops off their year-end clinical experience and hopefully encourages these high-achieving students to continue their education and gain advanced degrees so they can be role models in the Native American community and leaders in nursing education and practice.

This program not only impacts students who struggle to become nurses; it has inspired some associate degree graduates of UNMG to continue their education with the goal of attaining advanced degrees and becoming nurse leaders in clinical roles and as nurse educators. It supports their education efforts by covering costs while expanding clinical experience so that students and new graduates can see themselves aiming for higher degrees and considering higher aspirations.

As a recent participant, Dacia Cunejo wrote:

Overall I had such an amazing experience here at Doylestown Hospital, an experience that I would never have gotten to see if it wasn't for ANA. I am just so thankful for this opportunity to see and learn so many different things. The staff was amazing and so welcoming. They answered questions and made us feel at ease. They took the time to explain procedures and their roles as nurses, nurse educators, nurse practitioners and so many others. Just how they manage care is so much more efficient because they have the technology and resources readily available. For example, they have computers on wheels available for almost every room in some departments like the ED.

I can't say enough about the staff. They were all so nice and didn't mind being bombarded with questions. They showed interest in why we were there and were so willing to teach and help us understand.

Fundraising events are held in the Bucks County, Pennsylvania (home of Doylestown Hospital and ANA efforts) to raise funds for students. Additionally the nurses from the hospital send clothing and shoes to Baca/Dlo'ay Azhi Community School, a school on the Navajo Reservation that promotes Navajo customs and language use in addition to the generic general national curriculum.

Health screenings for students on a reservation

Rounding out the Expanding Horizons Program is a community service project.

ANA found a tremendous need for health screenings in the Native American elementary schools on the reservation. Many families don't subscribe to Western medicine, and without any school nurses and the only "medical care" being provided by non-medical personnel, the children are in need of screenings to help identify deficiencies that may affect their academic progress as well as their overall health. The teachers also benefit from health screenings so they can adapt their classrooms to the needs of the children.

Students at Baca/Dlo'Ay Azhi Community School on the Navajo reservation in Gallup, New Mexico.This fall, a team of nurses from Doylestown Hospital and I spent a week providing health screenings for elementary students at at Baca/Dlo'Ay Azhi Community School on the Navajo reservation in Gallup. We were joined by student nurses from UNMG for this pediatric clinical experience.

Of the 349 students, we were able to complete 230 health screenings due to a lack of permission slips from the other students. The health screenings consisted of height, weight, vision, hearing and color blindness for all students as well as a partial scoliosis screening for grades 5 and 6. We had the help of student nurses from the university, who were supervised by, Kellywood-Yazzie. We also trained 13 staff members on how to use the equipment so that one day they can be independent in completing the health screenings.

These nurses pay their own way for this clinical service experience, while donor funds go directly to the nursing students and their program. I'm thankful that my own company's employee fundraising program, Elsevier's RE Cares, has been a significant contributor to the program.


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Cheryl Mee has been a nurse for 35 years. As a Manager of Faculty Development in the Implementation and Consulation Department at Elsevier, she focuses on helping faculty better understand and implememnt HESI Review and Testing products to improve student outcomes.

She has worked in health science publishing for 20 years in various roles, including Editor-in-Chief of a clinical nursing journal and VP of US Nursing and Health Professions Journals. As a nurse educator, she has taught nursing classes in graduate and undergraduate programs.

Mee received her MSN and an MBA from La Salle University in Philadelphia. She has won national writing awards for her editorials and awards for her leadership and volunteer work from the Pennsylavania State Nurses Association. She is on the board of the Americans for Native Americans, where she helps Native American nursing students in New Mexico through scholarships and clinical exchange programs.

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