Campus Life

New nursing student award designed to attract and retain Indigenous nursing students

The University of Lethbridge and the Faculty of Health Sciences is helping remove obstacles for Indigenous students aspiring to be nurses through the introduction of a new student award.

The Man U’ Matapu Nursing Student Award is designed for Indigenous nursing students, offering financial support to those entering the Bachelor of Nursing program and up to three further consecutive years for continuing students in academic good standing. In total, each qualified student can receive up to $4,000 over the course of their academic career.

“It’s very clear there is a requirement for more Indigenous health-care professionals to meet the needs of communities, in particular First Nations communities,” says Dr. Shannon Spenceley, assistant dean in the Faculty of Health Sciences and associate professor of nursing.

The Faculty of Health Sciences has long supported Indigenous nursing initiatives. The Support Program for Aboriginal Nursing Students (SPANS) ran under federal funding support from 2007 through 2010 and was designed to build nursing capacity in First Nations communities. It has since expanded to Indigenous Student Supports for all Indigenous students in health sciences and now the Faculty is looking to enhance those support mechanisms.

“We’ve always had the vision about building capacity and enhancing the community and this is another way to achieve that goal,” says Marilyn Lamb, the learning facilitator in Indigenous Student Supports.

She says many Indigenous students face unique obstacles in pursuing and then completing their nursing degrees. Students often come to the program later in life, have transportation issues from rural settings, and family and extended family responsibilities.

As a result, the Man U’ Matapu Nursing Student Award is designed to attract students to the Nursing Education in Southern Alberta (NESA) program and then continue to provide a financial award each year of their studies.

“We wanted it to be an award that wasn’t just about entrance to the program because often times students manage difficulties going through the program as well,” says Spenceley. “They are trying to manage multiple priorities so we decided to make it an award where if the student stayed in the program and was of good standing, they’d receive the award every year.”

Of the approximately 500 total students in the U of L’s nursing program, around five per cent are Indigenous students. Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Dr. Chris Hosgood says the Faculty has an opportunity to increase that number through this award, and create real change in Indigenous communities as a result.

“This award represents one part of our commitment to addressing the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he says. “We are in the process of Indigenizing nursing education as part of a broader curriculum rebuild, and our goal is also to support Indigenous education more broadly across campus.”

The award’s name, Man U’ Matapu, was gifted by Elder Francis First Charger and means “beginning”.

“It’s wonderful for our program to incorporate Indigenous perspectives and it’s one of the priorities of our new curriculum,” says Spenceley. “Different ways of thinking, different ways of knowing, different ways of approaching health strengthen our program. It’s a tremendous asset to our programming to have more Indigenous students.”