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updated 1/23/2004 4:23:01 PM ET 2004-01-23T21:23:01

A five-year grant to the Health Sciences Center at the University of South Florida has recruited 100 American Indian applicants for a new program intended to "restore harmony, balance and well-being" by increasing Indian presence among nurses at health centers on reservations and elsewhere.

"There’s never been anything like it in the past," said project director Dr. Joan Gregory, Lower Muskogee Creek. "We’ve had the upward task of being creative."

The program’s focus is to increase the number of Native nurses, sensitizing faculty to the needs of American Indians and developing ways for faculty to bring that understanding to others.

"We reached those goals and will continue our efforts," said Gregory. "It was a new program and people need time to prepare for this."

Of the 100 applicants, representing 37 tribes and clans from around the country, 27 were chosen. Of these, four dropped out and eight found scholarships to continue their studies.

"Not all had the mobility to satisfy the scholarships," said Gregory.

One student graduated in August 2003 and took a job in the Washington State Public Health Commission. Another student is expected to graduate in August 2004.

The program was developed with the participation of American Indians from Florida and other states. Gregory said in the past year and a half, many Indians have moved to the Tampa area. The growing population is expected to bring in new students.

"Many Indians do stay on reservations and work for the tribe," she said. "They don’t leave for additional education. We focused on higher education to put them back into their communities to help their tribes."

The College of Nursing recruited the students for a program targeting American Indians interested in practicing advanced nursing. Anyone interested in working as a family nurse practitioner, adult nurse practitioner or nurse mid-wife were prime candidates for the program, as well as undergraduate and Ph.D. students. Programs included individualized instruction, classroom instruction, social and cultural projects and on-site clinical experience at health centers on Florida reservations and at other clinics serving Native Americans.

"A problem in the past has been that in the southeast, we were generally discouraged from acknowledging our tribe," said Gregory. "That’s changing."

Gregory is only one person in the country who is working on expanding alternative curriculum to provide culturally appropriate health care. Other schools with programs include the University of Oklahoma, Arizona State University, University of North Dakota, University of Minnesota and the University of Montana. The educators meet at least once a year to discuss efforts.

"All of us who are project directors are close," said Gregory. "We share our information. There’s a spirit of assisting each other. I think that’s so important."

Gregory did not apply for funding for the program this year.

"It needs more preparation," she said. "We’re working on prospective students."

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