Providing respectful and competent care is a cornerstone of exceptional nursing. However, a patient’s perception of healthcare and healthcare providers’ abilities to provide comprehensive care can be impacted (positively or negatively) by a healthcare provider’s ability to take a patient’s own background and experiences into account. This is particularly true within Alaska Native (AN) and American Indian (AI) communities, as each culture maintains distinct traditions. When nurses in Alaska are able to relate to indigenous ways of living, knowing, and healing, they can establish a comfortable and trusting relationship with AN and AI patients.
One organization working to help increase the comfort level in AN and AI people seeking healthcare is the Recruitment and Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing (RRANN) program through the University of Alaska Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska. RRANN began as a free program to supplement the university’s nursing program in 1998 after receiving federal grant funds to recruit and mentor AN and AI students to pursue nursing degrees, with the goal of increasing representation of AN and AI staff in the healthcare profession.
Since 1998, RRANN has helped more than 270 AN and AI students graduate from the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing, and currently assists more than 300 nurse majors and pre-majors on University of Alaska campuses statewide to elevate and empower the next generation of AN and AI nurses.
Tina DeLapp, Ed.D., RN, FAAN, the program’s founder, believes that training culturally competent nurses is a vital and unique part of healthcare, rather than a politically correct box to check.
"Providing culturally relevant healthcare is not a matter of political correctness— it is often a matter of life and death,” she said. “When cultural competency is missing from healthcare, important information is not communicated, symptoms of illness are overlooked or misinterpreted, and patient outcomes suffer."
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, there are nearly 17,000 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and professionally active nurses in Alaska. Although the AN and AI community is still underrepresented in Alaska’s nursing workforce, Stephanie Sanderlin, RRANN student success facilitator and a Yup'ik and Unangan Alaska Native person, is inspired by the progress that has been made since the program’s inception, when less than one percent of nurses was an Alaska Native or American Indian.
“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those identifying as Alaska Native and American Indian make up 15.2 percent of Alaska's general population,” Stephanie said. “RRANN estimates that around three percent of the nursing population currently working in Alaska is now Alaska Native and/or American Indian, and most of them are former RRANN Program participants.”
The work RRANN is doing in Alaska directly impacts the future of culturally competent nursing, giving many AN and AI students the resources and opportunities necessary to excel in their education and careers as nurses. Take Amber Bosch, RN, as an example. The RRANN supported her financially, emotionally, and socially throughout her education, helping her stay focused and motivated in her nursing courses and creating a positive community for nursing students.
“RRANN created a positive community for nursing students where we could share thoughts and experiences with each other,” Amber said. “I didn't have to feel alone going through school. The program provided regular gatherings that gave me a place to access other students with things in common.”
Similarly, Laura Wallis-John, RN, attributes her success to RRANN student success facilitators who ultimately helped her graduate from nursing school and reach her goal of providing the best care possible to patients.
“RRANN has helped me by providing moral support, academic resources, as well as supplies, which all helped me make it to this point,” Laura said.
The future holds many new and exciting adventures for the nursing profession, but the importance of providing culturally relevant and respectful care is steadfast. RRANN’s mission of helping prepare the next generation of AN and AI nurses ensures that many Alaska residents will receive care that encompasses all facets of who they are.
To learn more about RRANN and meet some of its student participants, visit the University of Alaska Anchorage website.