Why the Nursing Program at Aaniiih Nakoda College is Unique

2:00 PM, Dec 14, 2023
3:53 PM, Dec 18, 2023

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Nestled along a quiet section of the Hi-Line is the town of Harlem in Blaine County, with a population of fewer than 800 people. Just south of town is the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, home to the Aaniiih and Nakoda nations, which inspired the name of Aaniiih Nakoda College, a center of learning for the region.

The college boasts a tight-knit community, where instructors can give personal attention to each student. With 13 degree programs and four certifications, Aaniiih Nakoda College serves the community by turning out the next generation of skilled graduates who, in turn, improve their own lives and the lives of members of their communities.

Addressing the local nursing shortage

One of the much-needed programs at the college is its nursing degree. After all, the country’s nursing shortage is expected to worsen through 2030, especially in the Western United States, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Aaniiih Nakoda addresses the need by offering an associate’s degree in science that prepares students to take the registered nurse license exam.

“The Fort Belknap and broader Hi-Line communities have been outstanding in their support of this nursing program,” said Brigit Hemmer, director of Aaniiih Nakoda’s nursing program. “Many of our graduates stay within the local and broader communities as registered nurses.”

The three-year degree includes one year of prerequisite courses and two years of nursing courses, for a total of 80 credits. Science, language arts, mathematics, and nursing classes are paired with courses designed to improve students’ familiarity with and sensitivity to American Indian culture, such as Aaniiih or Nakoda language, introduction to American Indian studies, and introduction to sociology.

Holistic and community-based education

By including coursework that familiarizes students with American Indian culture, the college addresses another shortage found in health care.

“Aaniiih Nakoda College’s ‘grow our own’ nursing program was established in 2016 and is working to fulfill the significant lack of American Indian nurses in the health care workforce at Fort Belknap and the regional community by educating nurses who are being rigorously prepared in nursing science and practice using the Medicine Wheel paradigm throughout the curriculum,” Hemmer said.

The Medicine Wheel paradigm is a philosophy Aaniiih Nakoda uses to enhance students’ sensitivity to tribal community needs.

“This paradigm represents the holistic and balanced nature of traditional life ways and ways of knowing for many cultural groups,” Hemmer said. “This model, in multiple variations, is common to many American Indian tribes and is utilized to represent the cycle of life and guide nursing practice with individuals, families, or communities from the perspective of health, education, sociology, and spirituality.”

A holistic approach to medicine recognizes that every aspect of patients’ lives affects their health and wellness. Nurses trained in holistic medicine will consider lifestyle, culture, religion, and family support when diagnosing illness and prescribing treatments. This approach, also called integrative medicine, has improved patient outcomes, particularly in culturally diverse communities, according to Cureus medical journal.

“Use of the Medicine Wheel to guide the inclusion of culture into the development and implementation of the nursing program upholds the mission of the institution to link cultural tradition with contemporary education for ensuring highly competent, safe, and holistic nursing care,” Hemmer said.

How to apply

Future students can visit the Aaniiih Nakoda College website to find the school’s admission application, nursing student handbook, and information about the nursing curriculum. They can also call the nursing program at 406-353-3928 to ask questions.

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