Senator Mitchell praises positive contribution from U of L program

Senator Grant Mitchell recently addressed the Senate to discuss the unique Support Program for Aboriginal Nursing Students (SPANS) at the University of Lethbridge. Following is text from his address.

Honourable Senators, it is my pleasure to speak about an exciting program offered at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. It is the Support Program for Aboriginal Nursing Students (SPANS).

This program was created in response to the shortage of Registered Nurses in rural and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada. There is an urgent need for members of these communities to become nurses to address the health issues experienced among Aboriginal people and to provide appropriate health services within their communities.

The main objective of SPANS is recruiting and retaining Aboriginal students who are academically capable and interested in pursuing a nursing career. Assistance and support is then offered toward providing the necessary academic background needed to complete a BN within the existing Bachelor of Nursing program at the University of Lethbridge. It is hoped that when the students have completed their program, they will consider returning to their home communities to work.

SPANS is a partnership amongst the University of Lethbridge Faculty of Health Sciences, Red Crow Community College, Blood Tribe Department of Health, Aakom-Kiyii Health Services (Piikani Nation), Siksika Health Services and the Blackfoot Confederacy.

There are several elements to this unique program. One element is the pre-nursing year, a transitional year that provides students with an opportunity to enroll in required courses for admission to the nursing program. And they are supported in the often-challenging transition from home and family life to university.

Another element is the integral role that Elders have in the program. Their discussions with students help them to examine concepts related to nursing and health care from a Blackfoot perspective.

In addition to learning from Elders, the Aboriginal nursing students have also benefitted from a Mentorship Program, which has involved current Registered Nurses who work in the Blackfoot Confederacy.

Opportunities for social networking and tutoring are also provided to support the students.

Designated staff and infrastructure provide additional academic and personal support. Thanks to the leadership of the learning facilitator and administrative assistant, the students can feel supported in all that they do.

The success of this program can be measured in a few important ways.

The program has recently expanded to assist students working towards degrees in Addictions Counselling and Public Health. The program has grown from seven students to approximately 60 in four years.

The retention rate of the program is also an indicator of success: of all the Aboriginal nursing students who started in SPANS, only one is no longer enrolled in a post-secondary program. The majority of Aboriginal students remain in a health-related program at the University.

Another impressive measure of success is that the students in this program have the opportunity to complete their clinical practicum in their home communities on local reserves and to become role models for other community members.

Honourable Senators, please join me in commending the students and staff of the Support Program for Aboriginal Nursing Students at the University of Lethbridge. They are truly a part of an innovative and visionary endeavour that will benefit First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada for years to come.

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