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College of Nursing Achieves Long-Term Goal of Aboriginal Student Body Representation.

November 16, 2015

Achieving its long-term goal of proportional Aboriginal representation in its student body, the College of Nursing is extremely pleased to announce an undergraduate enrolment of 165 (17.3 percent) Aboriginal students this term.  Provincially, the 2011 census identified an Aboriginal representation of 15.6 percent.  It is well known, that a representative health care workforce is key in making health care services more accessible and acceptable for diverse client groups.  The belief is, with an increase in the number of Aboriginal nurses, gaps in health outcomes among the province’s Aboriginal population will close.

“The College has been working towards this milestone for three decades” said College of Nursing Dean Lorna Butler. “We are proud that so many of the province’s outstanding First Nation and Métis students have selected us for their education. It’s a privilege to start them on their pathway towards a career as a Registered Nurse, where their skills and talents will benefit the health and well-being not only of Aboriginal residents but of all clients in our health care system.”

The College has been making steady progress towards this goal for several years, growing from a 9.2 percent Aboriginal student proportion in the 2012/13 academic year.  Strategist for Outreach and Indigenous Engagement, Heather Exner-Pirot credits much of the success to the College’s “Learn Where You Live” model.  “The College delivers the full degree program in six locations across the province including sites, established in 2012, in Ile-a-la-Crosse and La Ronge. Currently, half of our Aboriginal students are studying there or in Prince Albert. It makes the degree much more accessible, and it is more likely they’ll stay and practice as nurses in their home communities or regions after they complete their degrees.”

The College is also very proud of its higher than average retention rate, a fact credited to the program’s 1+3 year model.  All students take a (pre-professional) year of arts and science prerequisites, including biology, chemistry, statistics and nutrition, before entering nursing.  “It’s a tough year, but it prepares them for success in the Nursing program.  Our Aboriginal nursing students have proven academic and study skills which helps see them through to completion.”

Despite reaching the impressive milestone, the College expects its Aboriginal student numbers will continue to grow.  “We have a large cohort doing their pre-professional year at Onion Lake Cree Nation right now, and they’ll join our Saskatoon campus next September,” said Exner-Pirot, “and we are seeing growth at our Regina and Yorkton campuses.  Our second year class is 20 percent Aboriginal, so we are hoping to maintain that growth.”

The next big push is to increase graduate student numbers in order to prepare First Nation and Métis nurses for advanced practice, as well administrative, teaching and research roles. “We’ve just launched a $5,000 graduate entrance scholarship for Aboriginal applicants and added two equity seats to our Nurse Practitioner program, where we know demand in Aboriginal communities is high” said Exner-Pirot.  The College’s “Learn Where You Live” philosophy extends to its graduate programming – the Master’s program is fully distributed, meaning anyone with an internet connection can access it.  “Registered Nurses are everywhere, which means nursing education has to be everywhere”, added Butler.  “We’re focused on making sure we are accessible to students across the entire province, and these numbers confirm it’s been the right approach.”