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Nursing Education Center Creates Home For Students

Chynna Lockett

  Higher education can be complicated, especially when life gets busy. Family responsibilities or working a fulltime job makes finding time for classes a challenge. A program through South Dakota State University, is trying to make the journey a little easier for some students...and help pave their way to success. The Native American Nursing Education Center creates a sense of belonging and increases retention rates for Native students.

The Native American Nursing Education Center in Rapid City offers support in a lot of ways. There are books on nursing and Lakota Culture, pamphlets for financial support programs and quiet places to study. Students can even get snacks in the kitchen. Bev Warne is a Coordinator, Mentor and Adjunct Professor at SDSU. She helped start the center four years ago.

“The degree here is a baccalaureate in nursing. So that means they can move onto graduate school immediately if they choose to. So it’s comprehensive in terms of nursing education.”

79 year old Warne has been a nurse most of her life. She grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, then took a job teaching nursing in Arizona for 17 years. After that, she moved back home with family. She came out of retirement to get the Nursing Education Center off the ground.  

“The fact that I am a Lakota nurse and that I’ve been through a lot of what they are living today in terms of being Lakota in a basically non-Lakota world in the nursing college, I do have a deeper knowledge of their experience than the typical person might.”

Warne mentors nursing students. She’s  available nights and weekends, doing whatever she can to help them. She says a big part of her job is making students feel comfortable--like they belong. One way Warne does this is with monthly meetings called Soup And Learn. Native and non-Native students, faculty and community members gather at the center to discuss the nursing profession...and eat homemade soup.

“So it’s held during the lunch break where we recruit a Lakota speaker to come and talk about some segment of our history, our culture or general knowledge.”

They’ve talked about traditional Lakota plants and their uses. And about Lakota language terms that relate to the medical field. Warne says accessibility increases retention rates for Native students.  

“There’s a feeling of belonging that occurs with students and that is part of the strength of our program.”

Students are required to take two years of prerequisite classes, then another two years focusing on nursing classes. Jazmine Good Iron is about to start her fifth and final semester of as a nursing student. The 29 year old is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and grew up in Rapid City.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse pretty much my whole life since I was a little girl. I had my first son pretty young-I had him at 18. So it kind of changed the course of my life and I had to just kind of find of find myself again and get back on track.”

Good Iron has three kids and works full time at the Rapid City hospital. Every once in a while, she appreciates a little help.

“Sometimes you need that little extra support and it doesn’t make you any less of a good nurse or anything like that. It just means you need help and I think it’s important too. That was the hardest thing for me was asking for help just because I’ve always done things on my own.”

Good Iron says she’s gotten several grants through the center and they’ve even helped her pay a bill so she could focus on her studies. She’s maintained a good academic record and plans to stay in Rapid City for work after graduation at the end of the year. She’s already accepted a temporary position at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

“I did earn an externship in the emergency department this summer. And so what that is is I’ll just work alongside a nurse preceptor all summer and get to gain valuable experiences outside of school. And get to perform all nursing duties and so I’m really excited that they chose me for that.”

Another student, Andrea Heart was recently accepted into South Dakota State University’s nursing program.

“You apply for the program in the semester before you anticipate going and then it takes them maybe a month or so to get back to you and let you know whether or not you’ve been chosen to be a part of the upcoming semester.”

Heart is enrolled in the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. The 25 year old is a mother of two and also works a full time job. Heart has wanted to be a nurse her whole life, but dropped out of school when she was younger. She’s maintained a good academic record at SDSU while taking rigorous courses.

“Just to give you an idea, the Physiology class that i’m in now, this is my third time taking it. So it definitely hasn't been easy for me but I think that the important thing is I know I was in this position before and I’m really determined to not give up this time.”

Heart also gets financial support and mentorship from the center. She lives more than  350 miles away from her family and getting back home isn’t easy. The nursing center makes her feel less isolated.

“If I just had a rough day, even if I don’t necessarily go there to visit with someone, I could just go there and sit in the little waiting area and just kind of find peace and work on some homework. And it’s kind of like a home away from home.”

Heart says the Native American Nursing Education Center is helping her succeed. She hopes to see such programs expand to all universities in the state.