College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines

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RAIN program receives Rural Health ‘Excellence in DEI’ Award

Half of all American Indian registered nurses in North Dakota are RAIN Program graduates, the program reports

Earlier in June, UND’s RAIN or Recruitment & Retention of American Indians into Nursing program received the Rural Health ‘Excellence in DEI’ Award at the 38th Annual Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health. Accepting the award are (from left) Evelyn “Faye” Foote, RAIN/MHA Pathways mentor; Deb Wilson, retired RAIN Program director; Kelsey Morin, RAIN/MHA Pathways mentor; Barb Anderson, director; Chantel Vazquez, Student Support Services mentor; Kara Anderson, prospective student advisor and office coordinator; and Katey Monette, nurse mentor. Center for Rural Health photo.

By Jena Pierce

Working to ensure organizations keep diversity, equity, and inclusion on top of mind is an important part of making everyone feel seen, heard, and valued. The UND Recruitment & Retention of American  Indians into Nursing (RAIN) program understands this goal, as it is at the heart of the program’s mission. In addition, RAIN graduates have impacted care beyond the borders of North Dakota, with many working in healthcare organizations across the United States and around the globe.

The RAIN program helps American Indian students who aspire to work in the nursing field. The program supports students from pre-nursing through doctorate work. But the faculty and staff don’t just help with advising and other academic support. Their goal is to help the individual, and this includes assistance with personal and financial counseling, guidance, and providing a “home away from home.”

Celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion

It is this personal attention that has allowed the program to become successful and, in June, receive the inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion award at the Rural and Public Health Awards Banquet during the 38th Annual Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health, held in Bismarck. The annual awards banquet recognizes outstanding North Dakota rural health advocates for their accomplishments.

This award is presented to an individual or team that has demonstrated outstanding commitment and made significant contributions to the health of North Dakotans through advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. And the RAIN program has succeeded in that goal.

The Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health is a partnership of the University of North Dakota (UND) Center for Rural Health (CRH), the North Dakota Rural Health Association, the North Dakota Public Health Association, the UND College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines (CNPD), and Altru Health System. The planning committee for the conference selects the awardees from the nominations.

Successfully building health workforce

Housed within the CNPD, the program has been active for 33 years, and has graduated 254 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, 79 Master of Science in Nursing, and three Doctor of Nursing Practice students. For each of their graduates, the RAIN program hosts an honor ceremony and traditional meal to celebrate their accomplishments in a culturally relevant and respectful way. But more than that, they have brought a culture of healing and healthcare to each of the reservations in North Dakota, and culturally-appropriate care to other parts of the state.

According to the RAIN program webpage, 50 percent of American Indian R.N.s in North Dakota are RAIN graduates. Having nurses who understand culture, community, rural health, barriers, and solutions brings highly valued care everyone deserves.

“North Dakota saw the largest increase in diversity from 2010-2020 of all of the U.S. states, and this isn’t just in the urban areas,” said Kylie Nissen, grant program director at the UND Center for Rural Health (CRH).

The RAIN Program support services have recently been expanded to include American Indian students in the social work and nutrition and dietetics programs with CNPD.

Building healthy rural communities

Nissen is also the program director for the Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health. “As rural communities grow in diversity, it is important to ensure that organizations work to make sure everyone feels included, heard, and a part of the local community. We want to celebrate that work throughout the state.”

After last year’s conference, several participants asked for more emphasis to be placed on sessions discussing diversity and equity in healthcare settings. The healthcare workers were seeing the increasing diverseness in their facilities and wanted to make sure people were being seen, heard, and understood.

Dr. Shawnda Schroeder, assistant professor in the UND Department of Indigenous Health, nominated the RAIN Program for the award. “Not only does this program have an amazing impact for the individuals who graduate, but it has demonstrated outstanding commitment and made significant contributions to the health of North Dakotans,” said Schroeder.

The RAIN staff were on hand to accept the award. They work every day to help future nurses become successful in their goals of helping, healing, and serving their communities.

“We are honored that our RAIN Program has received this recognition,” said Barb Anderson, director of the RAIN Program. “Thanks to all of the individuals who have been a part of this great program: Dr. Lavonne Russell-Hootman, who wrote the initial grant; Dr. Chris Burd, Deb Wilson, Dean Maridee Shogren, Dr. Gayle Roux, and the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines. We know that the nurses who have been assisted by RAIN are out in our Tribal Nations making a difference. Thanks to all of them. To receive an honor for diversity, equity, and inclusion is especially important at a time when DEI is being questioned in North Dakota and across the country.”

CRH initiated the conference 38 years ago and helps facilitate the event. CRH has programs that serve people within the state, region, and nation, and works in a variety of areas to bring together expertise and help share knowledge and tools with a broad range of rural and tribal stakeholders. CRH is the federally designated State Office of Rural Health for North Dakota, and a division within the School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

The Center’s mission is to connect resources and knowledge to strengthen the health of people in rural areas, and the Dakota Conference has proven to be a prime way to build that knowledge-base, create community capacity, and to plan for healthier lives.

About the author

Jena Pierce is communications manager for the Center for Rural Health at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

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