L’nu Nursing Initiative lead Dawn Googoo on supporting Indigenous nursing students – Faculty of Health
» Go to news main L’nu Nursing Initiative Leads Dawn Googoo on Supporting Indigenous Nursing Students Posted by Jane Doucet on Jan 30th 2023 in the news
Dawn Googoo at the Indigenous Student Engagement and Research Lounge (Photo: Bruce Bottomley)
When Dawn Googoo took charge of the L’nu Nursing Initiative at Dal’s School of Nursing in Spring 2021, she knew she would support Indigenous nursing students emotionally, spiritually and academically. What she didn’t realize until she started listening to students was that her challenges began during the application process.
Applicants to Dal’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) program must pass a CASPer test, a 90-minute online assessment, in addition to the academic requirements. The test presents a dilemma and asks applicants how they would deal with it. Example: If the applicant works part-time at a pharmacy and a customer comes back with an open bag of diapers wanting a refund, what would the applicant do?
“This puts tribal peoples in situations we’ve never been in, so we wouldn’t know about business policy or how to answer that question,” says Googoo, a member of the We’koqma’q First Nation in Cape Breton. NS “An 18-year-old who has never left his home community will likely have worked with a relative on his reservation. If there is a problem, we would say maybe the boss can answer that question.”
As a result, Indigenous students received low scores on the CASPer. “That’s when I realized there were more problems to solve,” says Googoo. After spending a decade in the military, she earned her nursing degree from St. Francis Xavier University and then enrolled in Dal’s Master of Nursing (MN) program, which she plans to graduate in August.
Creating a safer environment
The L’nu Nursing Initiative was created by the Canadian Institute of Health Research Chair in Indigenous Health Nursing for Nova Scotia, led by Dr. Margot Latimer, a professor at the School of Nursing, in collaboration with the Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia. “L’nu” means “native” in the Mi’kmaw language.
After 15 years working as a researcher in First Nations communities, Latimer recognized the need to support Indigenous nursing students. “Indigenous peoples prefer to be cared for by indigenous health workers, including nurses, but there is such a shortage of indigenous nurses,” she says. “As a result, tribal people’s experiences in the healthcare system can be poor.”
Latimer recognizes that there is still work to be done to create a welcoming, supportive and safe environment for Indigenous students in academia. “It has to be done with an Indigenous nurse who understands what it’s like to be taught by a non-Indigenous person,” she says. “In Dawn’s role, she anticipates what the students need because she has that lived experience.”
“People are better taken care of when they’re from their own culture, by someone who looks like them and speaks their language,” says Googoo. Her MN focus is on recruiting and retaining Indigenous nursing students, and she wishes to teach nursing upon graduation.
Promote success and pride
To foster a welcoming environment, an Indigenous Student Engagement and Research Lounge was opened in September 2022 in Room G48 in Dal’s Forest Building. The cozy room is furnished with comfortable furniture, a blackboard, snacks, smeared medicine and a rug depicting the traditional seven sacred teachings – Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility, Truth. Dalhousie Elder in Residence Ann (Annjij) LaBillois (above, with Googoo) also visits the students in the lounge.
Googoo is in the lounge on Tuesdays from 9am to 2pm helping students with their papers and grant applications or just chatting about life. Sharing her own struggles as a nursing student and those she encountered in her work as a nurse helps form valuable bonds.
“There are eight students who visit me there regularly,” says Googoo. “They were there at the beginning of the year and are still there – for me that is success. My hope is that Indigenous nursing students will be successful and proud of who they are.”