This is a still image from the award-winning
documentary "Essence of Healing: Journey of American Indian
Nurses." Those behind the film hope it will help recruit and
retain native nurses to serve communities with elderly people
in need of care. Special to Forum News Service
FARGO Madonna White Bear Azure remembers being the only
American Indian in nursing school at the University of North Dakota
back when she graduated in 1982.
Now there are programs dedicated to recruiting and retaining
native nurses at UND, and at North Dakota State University where
the Indigenous Wisdom in Nursing (I-WIN) program had its first graduate
That year it was reported 242, or less than 2 percent, of the
state's nearly 14,800 nurses were American Indian, according to
I-WIN director Loretta Heuer, who hopes an award-winning documentary
will help increase the number of American Indians in the health
"Essence of Healing: Journey of American Indian Nurses" premiered
in April 2016 and has since gained recognition at film festivals.
The documentary, which features the stories of 14 American Indian
nurses from the northern Plains, won the 2017 Sigma Theta Tau International
Nursing Media Award in October and the Best Service Film Award from
the American Indian Film Festival in November.
Heuer said the documentary began as a research project trying
to answer the question of "how can we get more Native American students
into the profession of nursing."
"There weren't any role models in the media," she said, adding
that American Indians aren't always "portrayed in a positive manner."
And so a partnership was formed with Bismarck-based KAT Communications,
I-WIN and UND's Recruitment and Retention of American Indians into
Nursing (RAIN) program. Heuer took on the role of executive producer,
and the filmmakers conducted in-depth interviews with native nurses
who talked about the challenges and rewards of working in the field.
Azure said she was honored to be included in the film, which
she believes is a great tribute to American Indian nurses. Within
the 58-minute film, she shares her 35-year journey, starting as
a staff nurse with Indian Health Services and working her way up
to administration. Now retired, she has a consulting business and
still works in community health.
Azure said having enough health care workers is always an issue
for native communities.
"Our reservation, Fort Berthold, is a huge geographical area
and at times can be a challenge to get to each community," she said.
"We're getting older, and so we're going to need more native nurses
to help take care of the elders."
With the I-WIN and RAIN programs, Azure said, there is more
support for native nurses to succeed and help provide for the community's
Heuer said there are plans to present the documentary at high
schools and colleges to encourage students to pursue nursing.
I-WIN graduated three nurses at NDSU in December, and there
are seven currently enrolled, with three more students joining in
January. However, Heuer said funding for the program is anticipated
to run out in June, so she is in the process of applying for a grant.
Copies of the film are available through the North Dakota State
University bookstore in Fargo and the North Dakota Heritage Center
and State Museum in Bismarck.