Indigenous students in Alaska get hands-on medical experience at nursing camp

Rayanne Alick (left) and Mariah Perez stand with their sim, having successfully treated its abdominal wound. (Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media)
Nurse Charlie Tyrrell is walking students through a wound care demonstration. 17-year-old Mariah Perez and her class partner Rayanne Alick are changing out a bandage on a simulated mannequin. This one has an abdominal injury. After filling the wound with black foam, they have to apply an adhesive to hold everything down.

In addition to wound care, the group of about ten students learned how to measure blood pressure, analyzed breathing patterns and now have their own stethoscopes. It’s part of a three-day nursing camp hosted by University of Alaska Anchorage’s Recruitment and Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing (RRANN) program. Some students are local or come from towns on the road system like Fairbanks, where Mariah is from, and Kenai. Others are from rural villages like Marshall, Rayanne’s hometown.

For 20 years, RRANN has helped Native college students get into the nursing field. This camp is in its third year, with the goal of getting younger students excited about nursing.

Stephanie Sanderlin is a student success facilitator with RRANN. She’s a member of the Curyung tribe from Dillingham. She says she’s seen firsthand the success the program has had in recruiting Native nurses in the state.

“I know several students personally from my own community who came through the RRANN program and are now practicing nurses,” Sanderlin said. “But also, RRANN statistics tell us that 90, 95 percent of our graduates are practicing, and 80 percent of those practicing nurses stay in Alaska.”

Sanderlin says having Native nurses in rural communities can be a comfort for patients.

“People are much more likely to do especially something invasive or something that is potentially frightening with someone that they know. Especially in close-knit communities like rural communities and Native communities.”

A new set of skills

Back at the class simulation, Mariah and Rayanne finished patching up their patient, using a suction device to clear out excess air. They nailed it on their first try.

Mariah, who’s from Fairbanks, says she was surprised she was able to successfully treat the wound, and the process has her excited to do it for real.

“I think it would be cool if you actually got to do this,” she said. “But also it’d be kinda difficult because you’re doing it on an actual patient with feelings. And everybody’s pain tolerance is different.”

The three-day camp wrapped up Thursday with students learning a new set of skills to bring back home, along with their new stethoscopes.

Rayanne, from Marshall, just graduated from high school and plans to start taking classes at UAA this fall, with the goal of being a nurse in Alaska.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Dene woman enters medical school in hopes of serving North, CBC News

Finland: Doctor shortage in South, patient shortage in North during Finland’s summer, Yle News

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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