The University of Lethbridge has a rich heritage as a leader in First Nations, Métis and Inuit education. Situated on Blackfoot land in southern Alberta, the University strives to build strong relationships and relevant programs for all First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. The Faculty of Health Sciences’ commitment to our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students remains a central feature of its programming, and the Faculty strives to maintain relationships that are positive, mutually respectful, culturally appropriate and productive.
Our quest is to support First Nations, Métis and Inuit students to navigate the post-secondary education experience. The goal is not only to personally support students so they can successfully complete their degrees and return to work in their home communities, but also to improve cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural education that complements the growing interest in the ways that traditional protocols influence contemporary practices.
The idea of creating a targeted support program for Aboriginal students in nursing stemmed from discussions amongst the Blood Tribe Department of Health, the University of Lethbridge, Red Crow Community College, Piikani Health Services, Siksika Health Services, and the Blackfoot Confederacy in 2007. Through these discussions, the Support Program for Aboriginal Nursing Students (SPANS) evolved. In 2010, in addition to providing support for baccalaureate nursing students, the Faculty of Health Sciences extended support services to all First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in the Bachelor of Health Sciences Addictions Counseling and Public Health degree programs. This comprehensive program changed its name from SPANS to Support Services for Aboriginal Students in Health Sciences.
Support Services for Aboriginal Students in Health Sciences is intended to provide: support to students by offering support in the often challenging transition from home and family life to university, mentorship programs with elders and aboriginal health care professionals as well as tutoring and counselling support. In addition, social networking opportunities are provided as well as assistance with scholarship and bursary applications.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit people have a long tradition of caring for the ill and helping people stay well, yet the shortage of health care professionals is particularly evident in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada. Poverty, addictions, substance abuse and other health issues have placed tremendous stress on community health care resources. Communities are challenged to increase the number of Aboriginal people entering health care disciplines such as nursing, addictions counseling, and public health.
Before the support services were in place, enrolment and retention were low, with only a handful of students spread across the four-year Bachelor of Nursing and Bachelor of Health Sciences programs. However, with targeted support, these numbers have steadily increased. Sixty plus students are currently enrolled for the 2011/2012 school year and continued growth is anticipated. Correspondingly, graduation rates of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students have also increased.
Canada’s Aboriginal population is growing faster than the general population. Education is a critical factor in ensuring that First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples have success within the workforce. This new generation of health care professionals will address the health issues experienced amongst our peoples and provide appropriate health services to families living on the nation’s reserves and in its urban centers. Increasing the number of Aboriginal health care professionals is crucial to: enhancing the capacity of communities, positively influencing effective and efficient health care delivery, and making dreams a reality.