By Tonaya Marr
Jason Bird, 37, has spent the last eight years of his life at the University of Regina, and he’s using his influence to help aboriginal students finish their degrees.
While working on his Master’s degree in administration, majoring in leadership, Bird has taken on the position of aboriginal support coordinator for the U of R’s fledgling nursing program, which is offered through the U of R and SIAST. Bird and his colleagues use their newly-created positions to keep aboriginal nursing students in school.
“We try to find out why they’re leaving, try to stop them from leaving (and) try to give them as much help as we can, so that they don’t quit school,” said Bird.
There are some 60 aboriginal students among the 350 available seats in the U of R nursing program, split between Regina and Saskatoon campuses. According to dean of nursing David Gregory, the school hopes to see the number of aboriginal students increase.
“What we want is a better representation of Saskatchewan’s society in nursing,” said Gregory. “That’s why we’ve taken corrective measures to try to build up the numbers of aboriginal students in our program.”
Celeste Okemaysim, 26, is a second-year nursing student at the U of R. A First Nations student, she sees positives in the role of aboriginal nurses in Saskatchewan’s health care system.
“I’m hoping that we can bring our… First Nations knowledge of medicine and how we’re holistic and how we focus on all aspects of health and not just the physiological aspects,”she said.
Bird keeps in contact with enrolled equity students through social media and email. A group has been created on Facebook for students to allow easy access to Bird and his expertise on surviving at university as an aboriginal student.
“We’re trying to keep as much touch with those students as we can,” said Bird. “Because they may get lost in the shuffle.”
With a growing First Nations population in the province, Bird’s position and positions like it may be helping introduce more aboriginal nurses into the province’s work force.
“If you’re aboriginal and you see an aboriginal nurse, that can be inspiring to a patient,” said Gregory. “It can also actually result in better outcomes for a patient who’s aboriginal.”