New nursing degree brings Fort Lewis College, CU Anschutz together to teach Indigenous-focused health curriculum

New nursing degree brings Fort Lewis College, CU Anschutz together to teach Indigenous-focused health curriculum
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A new partnership between two Colorado higher education institutions aims to tackle a shortage of Indigenous nurses while bolstering rural health care in the Four Corners region through a novel, culturally-competent four-year nursing degree at Durango’s Fort Lewis College.

The program, expected to begin in the fall of 2023, will bring the nursing curriculum and professors from the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus to the Indigenous-serving college in southwest Colorado, said Amy Barton, CU Anschutz senior associate dean for faculty and students in the College of Nursing.

“There are no places doing this,” said Cheryl Nixon, Fort Lewis College’s provost. “There needs to be solutions to rural nursing and especially nursing that reflects that demographic that’s diverse, first-generation college students who understand how community-approached nursing would work because they’ve lived in that community and they know that would resonate.”

Fort Lewis College — formerly a federally-run Indian boarding school — now offers free tuition for students from federally-recognized Native American tribes or Alaska Native villages. More than 40% of its student population is Native American or Alaska Native, representing 184 tribes and Native Alaskan villages.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, only 341 students who identified as Alaskan Native or American Indian in the United States graduated from an accredited nursing program in 2020 compared to more than 6,450 Asian students, more than 7,000 Black students, more than 8,700 Latino students and more than 50,780 white students.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Colorado had the fourth-lowest concentration of nursing professionals by state in the U.S. in 2020.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office studied employment data from the Indian Health Service in 2018 and concluded there are not enough health care providers in the IHS’ service area to provide quality and timely health care to Indigenous people, with the average vacancy rate for physicians, nurses and other care providers at 25%

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