How the University of Saskatchewan is building an Aboriginal nursing workforce

September 19, 2017
  • AACRAO Connect
  • Diversity and Inclusion
Female pharmacist speaking with a male in a collared dress shirt.

The University of Saskatchewan Community of Aboriginal Nursing (UCAN), within the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan, has played an instrumental role in the university’s success in recruiting and retaining Aboriginal students. With the goal of bringing about a representative healthcare workforce in Saskatchewan, UCAN provides a complement of  Aboriginal student services (listed below.) One of the most innovative and effective so far has been the distributive learning program, begun in 2012.


Learn where you live = Retention

“We offer distributive learning and ‘learn where you live,’ at six different sites across the province,” said Trudy Unger, Aboriginal Nursing Adviser at the University of Saskatchewan. Classes are always taught by a live professor, sometimes via videoconference.

“Instead of having to come to the main campus, uproot their families and leave their support systems, students can attend the program in their communities,” Unger said. At the end of their education, students are able to stay and provide health care services in their home communities or nearby, where services are needed.

The College of Nursing has set aside 16.6% of seats for Aboriginal applicants who meet minimum entrance requirements.

“So far, we’re leading the country with an 18.9 percent Aboriginal student population,” Unger said. “And retention for Indigenous students is 93 percent.”

The distributive learning model also includes services such as:

  • Culturally-sensitive academic and personal advising.

  • Referrals for childcare, housing and funding concerns.

  • Access to Elders and ceremonies.

  • Tutoring, mentoring and lunch-and-learns.

  • Emergency loans and more.


Early, targeted recruitment

Recruitment to UCAN begins at the high school and even middle school level.

“You can’t just look at students in high school,” Unger said. “You have to look at elementary and middle school students, and find ways to interest them in math, sciences, and health sciences. We partner with other Aboriginal agencies to start young and build a pathway into nursing.”  

“Research shows that Aboriginal students tend to drop out in grades 8 through 10, so we try to connect with students before that to maintain an interest in continuing education,” said Tracy Gobeil, Aboriginal Nursing Advisor. “We also offer scholarships and bursaries for some Aboriginal students who can’t take science or math because they lacked the academic opportunities that urban students have.”

These kind of targeted enrollment strategies can work with any group who needs to be more engaged on campus.

“If you’re recruiting non-mainstream groups that need to be drawn into the workforce and into education in larger numbers, our strategies could apply,” said Gobeil.

Gobeil and Unger will discuss these SEM tools and student success pathways at the AACRAO SEM Conference in a session called “Creating Student Success Through a Community of Support: University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing's Strategies for Aboriginal Student Success." For these best practices and more innovative approaches to SEM, register now for the AACRAO SEM Conference, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 in Phoenix.



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