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‘Caring for Our Own’ program at MSU supports local nurse

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BOZEMAN — As a nurse, Adessa Durglo’s goal is to treat her patients the way she would want her own family members to be treated. It’s a simple concept, and — as she watched her grandparents near the end of their lives and wanted something more for their care — it’s what led her to nursing in the first place.

Durglo, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, graduated from high school in St. Ignatius in 2011 and then began taking classes at MSU. Her father had gone to MSU, she said, and, with Bozeman about a four-hour drive from St. Ignatius, it felt like a good distance from home. She also earned a track scholarship and participated in the high jump, long jump and triple jump as a Bobcat student-athlete. 

Durglo originally planned to pursue a career in physical therapy, and she received a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from MSU in 2016. 

But, she said, something was missing.

“I felt like I was kind of on the right path, but there was something more I wanted to do,” said Durglo, now 28. She wanted to help others, and she was interested in working with older people. Durglo also knew that she eventually hoped to return to St. Ignatius — a community of approximately 800 people. 

“If I wanted to come home, [St. Ignatius] is not really a big place for geriatric physical therapy,” she said. “I couldn’t make a whole career out of it here.”

That’s when she found MSU’s nursing program.

“It just felt right,” Durglo said. “I knew I could come home and serve an older population. And I knew there were so many different areas I could go into. There’s so much you can do with a nursing degree.”

She applied to the college’s accelerated program, in which students earn a bachelor’s degree in just 15 months, and she received a spot on the waiting list. Then, less than a week before classes were scheduled to start, she learned that a spot had opened. The only catch was that it was on the College of Nursing’s Great Falls campus; at the time Durglo was living with her sisters in Bozeman.

“That was a little crazy,” she said. “Just before classes started, the college asked me if I could be in Great Falls by the start date. I accepted and had to move myself and figure out finances and everything — in just six days.”

Durglo said the college’s Caring for Our Own Program, also called CO-OP, was an important source of support during her transition to Great Falls and while she pursued her degree. 

Started in 1999, CO-OP aims to recruit and graduate Native American nurses, particularly those who will work in Indian Health Service facilities on reservations or in urban settings. CO-OP supports both undergraduate and graduate students with advising and, if needed, tutoring. Through the program, students receive financial assistance with tuition, books, fees and supplies. Many students and graduates also say the informal support from CO-OP peers and administrators has been crucial to achieving their dream of becoming a nurse or nurse practitioner.

By offering resources and support to students, CO-OP and the College of Nursing intend to recruit more American Indian and Alaska Native students so nurses in the state will reflect the percentage of Montana’s population who identify as Native American, according to CO-OP Director Laura Larsson. A second goal is keeping American Indian and Alaska Native students in school across all College of Nursing programs at equivalent rates to their white counterparts. Finally, the college wants to ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native MSU nursing graduates continue to pass the NCLEX-RN licensing examination or the nurse practitioner certification board examinations at equivalent rates as their classmates. 

The ultimate goal of CO-OP, Larsson said, is to help improve the quality of health care in Native American and Alaska Native communities by increasing the number of qualified Native American and Alaska Native nurses who are prepared for practice, management and leadership to serve Indian Country. One hundred twenty-two students have completed the Caring for Our Own Program since its inception, according to Larsson, and more than 100 of those graduates are licensed nurses working in Montana. In addition, 10% of the program’s graduates have chosen to enroll in MSU’s doctoral nursing program.

“CO-OP helped me so much,” Durglo said. “Everything from getting me set up in Great Falls, helping financially and helping me figure out scholarship information in a short amount of time made a big difference.”

It also helped that there was another CO-OP student in her class in Great Falls. 

“It was nice to have that connection and to have a source of support to lean on,” Durglo said.

Durglo graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2019 and then moved back to St. Ignatius, where she began working as a nurse at Tribal Health of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. She is now a community health care manager there, working to coordinate patient care.

“For people who need extra assistance, we’re working to help them become more independent and take care of their own needs. We’re trying to give them confidence to manage the systems,” Durglo said. 

“It’s a challenging job, but it’s a lot of fun,” she added. “And there is a lot of room to help people who really, really need it.”

Larsson said Durglo is a wonderful example of exactly what CO-OP aims to accomplish.

“Adessa was a terrific student and is now a competent clinician who is providing important nursing care to her community,” Larsson said. “It is crucial to have high-quality nursing care right where people live. 

“At CO-OP, we get very excited when students like Adessa complete this journey home and become the local leaders in health care,” Larsson continued. Durglo — who got married this fall and has a six-month old daughter — said she’s not sure what the future holds for her nursing career.

“My passion in nursing is hospice and palliative care,” she said. “I’d love to see and help with care here (in St. Ignatius) that is culturally appropriate. That’s something that would be very valuable to have here for tribal health.”

Wherever her career takes her, Durglo said she’s grateful to be in a field in which the opportunities seem limitless — and in which she can serve others.

“To be able to come home and find ways to help people here feels really satisfying,” she said. “Taking care of people in my community feels like what I’m meant to be doing.”

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