Advancing Cultural Congruency among Nurses

  • By: Mark Scully, Northern Highland AHEC

MARINETTE — In recent years, Northern Highland AHEC (NH-AHEC) has partnered with Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (GLITC) on multiple efforts to recruit American Indian students into health care careers and support them along their academic path. This latest GLITC project entitled “Increasing Cultural Congruency (ICC) among Nurses in Wisconsin” stands out as a particularly innovative approach for advancing the cause of Native American health care.

The initial ICC objective is to improve the quality of nursing care for American Indian patients by promoting culturally congruent nursing practice. Toward that end, GLITC staff and UW-Madison academic partners scheduled talking circles at each of the four project sites: Lac du Flambeau reservation, Bad River reservation, St. Croix tribal community, and Milwaukee. Participating in the talking circles were nurses, tribal elders and patients from the tribal community. Members of the talking circles were encouraged to share their beliefs, views, concerns, experiences, and stories about the health care system in an atmosphere of open communication.

Nurses were able to see the system through the eyes of patients and vice versa. The participating nurses came from the Peter Christensen Health Center, Marshfield Clinic of Minocqua, Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff, Bad River Tribal Health Center, Ashland Memorial Medical Center, St. Croix Tribal Health Center, Spooner Healthcare System, Gerald Ignace Indian Health Center and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare System of Milwaukee.

The second ICC objective is to attract middle school and high school students to careers in health care, most especially nursing. Staff members Kara Schurman (from ICC) and Larry Bergum (NH-AHEC) teamed up to deliver health career presentations (emphasizing nursing) to area middle school and high school classes. These school presentations were tailored to appeal to American Indian students. The ICC and NH-AHEC project partners also forged relationships with elementary school staff members, school counselors, the Lac du Flambeau Education Department and Nicolet Area Technical College to foster nursing career awareness as well as programs and courses for students interested in a nursing career.

There is little doubt that the ICC has been achieving its aim of sowing the seeds for improved communication, understanding and trust between American Indian patients and the nurses who care for them. It is fervently hoped that the nursing career recruitment piece of the project succeeds in attracting more young people to the profession.

These are considerable achievements. In addition, there is a longer-term, strategic value to be realized out of the extensive collaboration that this project has caused for its numerous stakeholders. And so, while the ICC might not resolve every significant health care challenge that faces our Wisconsin tribal communities today, it is surely a step in the right direction.