According to the United States (US) Department of Health and Human Services the US healthcare system is facing a critical nursing shortage that was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, there are only 0.4% of registered nurses that are American Indian or Alaskan Native (AI/AN) representing only about 13,000 nurses in the United States -not nearly enough to provide quality healthcare for AI/AN communities. These statistics are especially troubling given that Indigenous populations have higher than average rates of 15 of the 16 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke. Native American youth have disproportionately high rates of mental health illnesses, including suicide rates.
These healthcare disparities must be addressed to provide culturally relevant and competent care to this population, which has already been uniquely and adversely impacted by historical, social, and economic challenges and decades of systemic discrimination and racism. Native American and Alaskan Native healthcare providers working the frontlines within their own communities are more likely to make a difference in the health of indigenous people because of their deep understanding, respect, and appreciation for the culture and unique context in which they live. In 2015, the National Academy of Medicine echoed this sentiment, stating“ evidence suggests that racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse health care providers are likely to practice in communities with similar populations, improving access to and quality of health care in those communities”. Currently most nurses staffing IHS and Tribal hospitals are non-Native Americans and many are hired on a temporary basis as traveling nurses with no permanent connection to these communities.
For many AI/AN individual’s navigating their way through nursing school, the cost of higher education can be an extraordinary burden to overcome. The FLIP Nursing Scholarship Program will provide financial support for nursing education costs by providing a stipend of $500 per month (prorated for number of days enrolled/month) for approved expenses (housing costs, food, childcare, and transportation) while enrolled and in good academic standing at an accredited nursing school at the associate or master’s degree level. The funds are distributed retroactively (at the end of the semester/term) if all eligibility criteria are met, and all required supporting documents/receipts are submitted when requested. The scholarship will preferentially be given to those individuals motivated to contribute to their Tribal communities upon graduation. Once accepted into the program the scholarship is valid for one academic calendar school year if the student continues to meet all eligibility requirements including being in good academic standing.