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Sue Henly in her office.

Sue Henly directs the U's American Indian/Alaskan Native bridge program, which was established at the School of Nursing in 2000.

Native American bridge program

M.S. to Ph.D. by way of Oklahoma and Minnesota

By Amy Barrett

April 25, 2006

Doubling the number of American Indian nurses with Ph.D.s in the United States is the goal of a unique initiative at the School of Nursing. Until the American Indian/Alaska Native M.S.-to-Ph.D. Nursing Science Bridge was established in 2000, there were only a dozen such nurses, says professor and project director Sue Henly. Now, nine more are well on their way to getting Ph.D.s.

Getting to 24 will take time, Henly says, "but we've made important strides."

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the bridge program is designed for American Indian/Alaska Native nurses who want a career as a nurse researcher and who already have a baccalaureate degree in nursing.

Through a unique partnership between two major universities, students accepted to the program first get their M.S. degree at the University of Oklahoma, then apply to go on for their Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota.

Of the nine students currently participating in the program, three have advanced to the doctoral program. Doctoral candidate Misty Wilkie-Condiff (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) has completed everything but her dissertation. In a year or so, Henly expects her to be the first bridge program participant to receive her Ph.D. Mary Black (Hidatsa) is a second-year Ph.D. student at the U of M. Judy Jacoby (Little Shell Chippewa of Montana) continued her graduate program with doctoral study at the University of North Dakota.

Involvement with respected Native elders, medicine people, and spiritual guides contributes to a culturally sensitive environment for learning. From the outset, the bridge program has also sought the advice of Native American consultants, including Winona Simms (Muskogee/Yuchi), who is director of the American Indian and Alaska Native Program at Stanford University; Dr. Jana Lauderdale (Comanche), who is assistant dean for cultural diversity at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing; and Lee Anne Nichols (Cherokee), who is an associate professor of nursing at the University of Tulsa.

"They serve as role models to students and advisers to faculty," Henly says.

Students and faculty from the University of Oklahoma and the U of M also have the opportunity to participate in a cultural immersion experience every two years.

"A highlight and hallmark of the program is our project retreat," Henly explains. Most of the retreats have taken place at the Shooting Star Event Center on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, but the last one was at Cherokee Casino in Tulsa.

"They're helpful for education, for coordinating our efforts, and for learning about Indian culture," she says.

Grant funds pay for some but not all of the program's costs. Examples of uncovered costs include drummers, singers, and dancers for retreats and blankets used at the blanket ceremony for program graduates. Alumni and others willing to help defray these costs can send contributions c/o Laurel Mallon, School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, 5-138 Weaver-Densford Hall, 308 Harvard St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455.