Native American PhD Student Receives Western Institute of Nursing’s Ann M Voda Conference Award

April 24, 2019

On Thursday, April 11, first-year University of Arizona College of Nursing PhD student Rhea DeCoteau, MSN, RN, CDE, was awarded the Ann M. Voda American Indian/Alaskan Native/First Nation Conference Award at the Western Institute of Nursing’s annual Communicating Nursing Research Conference. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians tribe in North Dakota, DeCoteau focuses her research on diabetes among the Native American population. The Ann M. Voda Award was established in 2009 to encourage Native American students enrolled in nursing programs in the western region to engage more fully with the WIN community of scholars. A big part of WIN’s mission is to increase diversity among researchers, clinicians, and educators, with the ultimate goal enhancing the diversity of research and clinical environments.

Take a few minutes to learn more about Rhea, her commitment to Native American health and her experience at UA Nursing.

Why did you choose a career in nursing?

One reason is that my mom was a nurse. She would tell me stories about her work, how she saved lives and the pride she got from that. That’s really where it started: I wanted to do what she did. It just felt like it would be a good career. The other reason is the versatility in nursing. There are so many specialties you can pursue, places where you can work or teach or educate the community. I like to do preventative education because that helps prevent a lot of issue people have before they have a chance to develop.

“We have a community college that lost its nursing program because of a lack of qualified educators, and I would love to help that program be resurrected. It needs to be brought to life because, like many rural areas, we need their assistance." ~ Rhea DeCoteau, MSN, RN, CDE, PhD Student, University of Arizona College of Nursing

Why did you choose UA Nursing?

The online program was the biggest reason. That helps a lot of working people in their transition to getting a higher degree. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school. The smooth application process was a big plus as well. Going into it, I didn’t really hear too much about the program, details like graduation rates and success rates. But now that I’m in the program, I can say that UA Nursing’s entire culture is really great. Instructors really care about students as a person and what you’re going through during your studies. I’ve had such support just in my first year as a PhD student.

Tell us about your doctoral studies and your research focus.

My dissertation is going to focus on diabetes amongst the native American population, mainly the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, where I live. I’m a member of that tribe. Right now, I’m a diabetes nurse and I’m the only one here not only in our Indian Health Service but in our area as a whole, so everybody knows me as the person to go to for diabetes education. My main focus right now is diabetes self-management skills amongst Native American adults ages 18-40. I see so many different things that need to be studied, from children all the way up to older adults. Within diabetes, there are issues such as the way we react to medication, the way we understand education, and the way we have disparities that really impacts a person’s ability to take care of their diabetes. Especially here in North Dakota. We live up in this barren place where there’s nowhere to exercise. In the winter, when it’s 50 below you’re not even supposed to leave your house unless you have to. There are also issues about access to healthy food. Not long ago, I saw a bag of apples was $10. I took some pictures to show my class and say ‘This is why we have such an obesity crisis.’

Do you see yourself pursuing academic work in the future?

Possibly. We have a community college that lost its nursing program because of a lack of qualified educators, and I would love to help that program be resurrected. It needs to be brought to life because, like many rural areas, we need their assistance. We’re very short staffed. Even if we just started with Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) who could transition into BSN who transition into PhD students. I would love to do that but I cannot leave the world of diabetes education. On the same note, after I earn my PhD, I definitely want to do more research on our reservation. I’m interested in research pre-diabetes in Native American children, because our children are getting pre-diabetes and diabetes earlier and earlier.

What does it mean to you to receive this conference award?

I’m really honored. It’s great that this award allows someone from the Native community to attend this huge conference that everyone is really proud of at the University of Arizona. I get to attend and learn more about pre-diabetes from other scholars and meet different people, so it’ll be really fun. I’m looking forward to it.