Tester Announces Funding for MSU's Native Nursing Program

The Caring for Our Own Program Helps Native Students Enter the Healthcare Industry

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester announced today that Montana State University’s College of Nursing will receive over $300,000 from the Indian Health Service (IHS) to fund their Caring for Our Own Program: A Nursing Education Program for American Indian and Alaska Native People.

“This funding will help provide quality healthcare to native families and communities,” Tester said. “By increasing the percentage of Native Americans in the medical profession we will create good paying jobs, improve health in Indian Country, and increase diversity in an important industry.”

Despite making up more than six percent of Montana’s population, American Indian and Alaska Natives are woefully under-represented in the nursing and healthcare industries. MSU’s Caring for Our Own Program aims to lessen this disparity by recruiting, mentoring, and financially supporting native nursing students.

“We are just delighted to get continued funding for this program, which has been existence for almost 20 years now,” said Dr. Helen Melland, Dean of the MSU College of Nursing. “We are extremely committed to the Native communities here in Montana and we’re proud to say that of the nearly 100 graduates of the Caring for our Own Program (CO-OP), an overwhelming majority have returned to their reservations to provide care.”

According to Melland, in the nearly 20 years since its inception, the CO-OP program has successfully eliminated the ethnic disparity within the MSU College of Nursing.

“A goal of this program has been to have the percent of Native students enrolled in the College of Nursing to be the same as the percent of Native Americans in MT – 6.5%,” Melland said. “We have now reached that goal.”

The ultimate goal of the initiative is to develop a well-trained, culturally sensitive workforce to help administer and improve the quality of healthcare throughout Native communities.

As Vice Chairman of the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee, Tester has been a huge proponent of improving healthcare for Native Americans throughout the state and the country. He has called on his colleagues to responsibly invest in the Indian Health Service, which has been woefully underfunded.