School of Nursing

November 23, 2020

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

During Native American Heritage month, we should pause and remember that Native American populations have been among the most severely affected by the COVID pandemic in the US. The CDC reports that, “In 23 states with adequate race/ethnicity data, the cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 among AI/AN (American Indian/Alaska Native) persons was 3.5 times that among non-Hispanic white persons.”

This is a stark reminder that much remains to be done in order for us to have health care equity for all.

One of the most important steps is to expand education opportunities and increase the number Native American nurses, who are steeped in their communities’ cultural factors, which play a significant role in any health care encounter. We are working on multiple fronts to make certain that qualified Native students have the support they need to consider nursing as a career and the UW School of Nursing as the place to begin their educational journey.

Many Native American students face high hurdles to pursuing a professional career—educational, financial, and cultural hurdles. We are working to eliminate those barriers with programs that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion; provide financial support; and make visible role models among the many past and current Native nurses who have blazed a path pioneered by Susie Walking Bear (Crow-Sioux), who is widely thought to be the first Native registered nurse.

Many of Washington’s tribes, such as the Tulalip, Swinomish, and Jamestown S’Klallam, are making important strides in advancing the health of their people. They have developed innovative, culturally-based programs in such areas as substance use disorders, behavioral health and diabetes prevention that nurture their families and community members by honoring our cultural teachings and values.

Native nurses and health care workers are a key element in improving health care. We feel both urgency and optimism about graduating more Native American nurses.

Native American Heritage Month is a celebration of the wisdom, perseverance, and dignity of Native populations. This is an appropriate time to consider what we—individually, institutionally, and collectively—can do to listen better and hear what these populations have to say about their healthcare and many other things.