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Aboriginal nursing students’ experiences in two Canadian schools of nursing : a critical ethnography Martin, Donna Elizabeth

Abstract

Motivated by a projected shortage of Aboriginal nurses and recurring difficulties in recruitment and retention of Aboriginal peoples in schools of nursing, a critical ethnography was conducted to examine the construction of undergraduate Aboriginal nursing students’ (ANS) experiences in two Canadian schools of nursing. The study was guided by tenets from several theoretical and methodological perspectives: Aboriginal epistemology, decolonizing methodologies for research and Indigenous peoples, cultural safety, and the social organization of knowledge. Data sources included semi-structured interviews with ANS (n=31), Aboriginal nurses (n=5), faculty (n=24), and key informants (n=16) who volunteered to participate. Other data sources were reflexive and descriptive field notes from 200 hours of fieldwork in classroom and laboratory practice sessions. As well, pertinent texts were randomly selected and analyzed. These texts (n=135) included recruitment brochures, nursing textbooks, journal articles, course syllabi, schools’ policies and procedures, and websites to further explicate how nursing discourse shaped ANS’ experiences. Although ANS described long and arduous journeys to and through the schools of nursing, their major concern was inadequate funding from Band sponsorship, Canada Student Loans or other sources. ANS’ stressors were strongly influenced and magnified by the intersectionality of gender, race, culture, economic status, and geographical distance from social supports. ANS’ stories illustrated how they used personal agency to ultimately realize their dream of becoming a highly independent and contributing member of society. Different explanatory models about nursing knowledge, practice and environments created tensions between ANS and teachers and sustained the hegemony within the institution rather than empower the student. Key informants identified how colonization and the history of Aboriginal education and nursing education in Canada continued to shape a disconnection in the student-teacher relationship as experienced by both ANS and nurse educators. Although health care needs of Aboriginal peoples are paramount in Canada, nursing curricula lacked the inclusion of information related to promotion of Aboriginal health. In the rare situation where Aboriginal health was addressed, dismal epidemiological statistics were listed and negative stereotypical portrayals were sustained. Curriculum content about historical influences of colonialism and neo-colonialism shaping Aboriginal health and information about diversity with the Aboriginal culture were absent. Based upon these findings, recommendations were made to enhance the educational experiences of ANS in Canadian schools of nursing. Key words: Aboriginal education, critical ethnography, recruitment, retention

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