Let it RAIN

UND program that recruits and educates majority of state’s American Indian nurses thrives with nurturing family atmosphere

Sonya Anderson and Elle Hoselton

Part of the success of UND’s Recruitment/Retention of American Indians into Nursing (RAIN) program is that it’s a home away from home for its students and alums, according to Elle Hoselton (left), a RAIN alumna who, like Sonya Anderson (right), came back to UND to mentor students in the program. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

There’s a nursing program on UND campus that will give you butterflies.

It’s the Recruitment/Retention of American Indians Into Nursing Program, or RAIN. And as soon as you enter their cozy little pad, you’ll see butterfly décor all around you. Even the RAIN logo has a butterfly.

The concept behind the butterfly came from the RAIN Director Deb Wilson.

“Deb incorporated the butterflies because she believes that when students come into the RAIN, they’re in a cocoon,” said Sonya Anderson, a RAIN alumna and nurse mentor in the program. “But as they build confidence, they spread their wings and they become a butterfly.”

The butterflies have been fluttering all over North Dakota since the federally funded program started 26 years ago at the UND College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines. Through the spring of 2016, 209 bachelor’s degrees and 54 master’s degrees have been awarded to American Indian nurses through the RAIN Program. Before that, only 19 American Indians received a nursing degree from UND. To date, nearly 80 percent of American Indian Registered Nurses in North Dakota are RAIN grads.

In light of November being National American Indian Heritage Month, Anderson and others took time to celebrate the success of UND RAIN program. Part of that success is because RAIN is a home away from home for its students and alums, said Elle Hoselton, a RAIN alumna who, like Anderson, came back to UND to mentor students.

“In Native American culture, relationships are very important,” Hoselton said. “As nurse mentors, we really work on building relationships with the students.”

Sonya Anderson and Elle Hoselton

Through the spring of 2016, 209 bachelor’s degrees and 54 master’s degrees have been awarded to American Indian nurses through the RAIN Program. Hoselton and Anderson say that RAIN Program Director Deb Wilson was their strongest mentor when they went through the program. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Support network

They do everything they can to promote a supportive learning environment, including advisement, academic monitoring and helping students locate funding sources. They build that network and that structure for students, but the students have to bring the drive.

“Our saying is ‘no excuses,’” Hoselton laughs. “If someone’s car breaks down, we have a taxi service. We also pay for emergency childcare if someone’s babysitter is sick, but it’s only on a needed basis.”

Anderson used the childcare on a few occasions when she was a student. For the Dunseith, N.D., native, home was a three-hour drive away, and if she didn’t have that resource, she says, it would have greatly hampered her ability to study and earn her degree.

“We had nobody else here but our RAIN family,” Anderson said. “Having that option was crucial for me because I have four children.”

Anderson and Hoselton both had a few mentors while going through the RAIN Program, but the name that keeps coming up is Wilson, who Anderson refers to as her “big ol’ mama bear.”

“I still rely on her,” Anderson said. “She’s always the one I go to.”

Tracking grads

Wilson has that effect on many RAIN students and alumni. One of Wilson’s strongest traits as a mentor is her ability to social network the old fashioned way. Along with Barb Anderson, RAIN program coordinator, Wilson seems to do as much door knocking as Facebooking.

“If Deb and Barb have a conference in Arizona, they’re stopping at four or five places to see RAIN graduates.” Anderson said. “They make that time. It’s truly special.”

While many programs find it difficult to keep track of their alumni, Wilson seems to be omnipresent in the lives of RAIN grads. You can ask her where anyone is and she knows, Anderson said.

“Deb will give you a year or two after you graduate,” Hoselton said with a smile. “Then she’s coming back to make sure you’re doing well.”

The level of focus on students and alumni in RAIN has led to a healthy program. It’s a good thing too, because the program is as essential as ever. The percentage of American Indian nurses, relative to the population, is still substantially lower than it needs to be. There have also been challenges trying to fill more than 450 nursing positions available at Indian Health Service facilities throughout the country.

“A lot of the facilities on reservations are really rural,” Hoselton said. “Sometimes you have trouble staffing, getting doctors, nurses and lab technicians. It’s really important that we recruit people from those areas, because they’re the ones that go back home and take care of their people.”

It will take a lot of work from programs across the nation to put enough American Indian nurses in the field to fill the void, but the RAIN family is certainly qualified. Its growing number of alumni can attest to that.

“RAIN is the No. 1 support program in the nation for Native American nurses,” Hoselton said. “We empower our students and build that courage in them so they know they can do it.”