Lowe, PhD, RN, with former First Lady, Rosalynn
Carter, at the invitation-only Johnson and Johnson’s
Care Givers Initiative press briefing in Washington
DC, 2006. Dr. Lowe was representing the Native
American Nursing Scholars
John Lowe, Cherokee, PhD, RN, FAAN is an associate professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University. He is one of only 14 doctoral prepared American Indian nurses in the United States. In 2007 he was inducted as a fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Nursing. He actively serves in such organizations as the American Colleges of Nursing, the California Endowment for Cultural Competencies in Graduate Nursing, the American Nurses Foundation, the National Coalition of Minority Nurses Association, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Cherokee Nation Healthy Nations Programs, and the Indian Health Service.
Dr. Lowe has represented Native American Indian nurses in many national forums, with such national leaders as the U.S. Surgeon General and the former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter. Globally he has provided health care services to underserved, disadvantaged groups in Tanzania, Costa Rica, Jamaica and China. He advocates for the culturally competent health care of Native Americans and all indigenous people throughout the world.
When the following, still very timely, interview was published, Lowe was an assistant professor at the Florida International University School of Nursing. More updated information follows the article.
JW: What are some of the most pressing health care issues facing Native American people?
JL: Alterations in life style, including diet, have resulted in high rates of diabetes and heart disease. Oppression has affected self-worth. Identity issues have resulted in depression and substance abuse problems. The HIV epidemic is a pressing issue, so is teen pregnancy. We need to get back to the traditions so we look at food as sacred and ourselves as sacred, spiritual people. We should not be abusing ourselves.
JW: What are some of the ways in which Native nurses can or are addressing these issues?
JL: Native nurses, who are familiar with their communities and their traditions, can help bridge the gap between traditional ways and Westernized medicine. They know the value of both worlds and both methods, and can help to integrate them.
Native nurses are usually more holistic than non-Native nurses. They understand the community resources, the family dynamics, the family ties and connections, the tribal tiesand and connections, the clan and tribal ties and connections.
Medicine is usually concerned with treatment after a disorder has revealed itself. Nurses understand disease prevention and health promotion. That focus has been lacking in our health care system.
JW: Are schools of nursing helping students learn to integrate traditional ways with western medicine?
JL: Yes, some programs more than others. We could always be better, and we are working on it. Ethnic people need to be educators and role models. We need to be there to demonstrate the value of traditional ways.
JW: What kinds of qualities do you look for in people who want to enter nursing?
JL: People who want to be nurses need to be caring. They need to have the ability to just be there, to listen, to work with people, to know and understand the cultural values of the client.
Students need to have taken certain prerequisites and have some success in academia. But schools are starting to look at the whole person and what they have done. And they look at recommendations.
JW: What are some of the opportunities available for Native people who want to become nurses?
JL: Many tribes are now taking control of their own health care system, and they are looking for Indian health professionals. So there are opportunities for nurses to shape and reform the system. The more Native nurses that are serving Native communities, the more the systems and approaches will look Native.
Long distance learning technology is helping to make nursing education more accessible. As we forge ahead I think there will be more training programs and degree programs that are connected with the tribes. That means that the local community nurse will be involved in some of the education and socialization of the student.
JW: What are some of the challenges that American Indian nursing students might face?
JL: You might have to go far to get your education. You might be in an environment where people are very different, where they might not understand that sometimes you may need to go home for family events, for ceremonies, for tribal events. Sometimes the academic world can be very foreign, very different. But many schools are now becoming more sensitive to those needs. And there are student advocates in some schools.
Sometimes financial resources are a challenge. Sometimes the learning styles of native people are different. Some programs though are working on ways to help students be successful.
JW: How did you get involved in nursing?
JL: We lived in a Cherokee community in a farming area. I was always very close to nature and took care of animals. When I was young my Mom was ill for several years before she crossed over. I became very keenly aware of what it meant to care for someone who was ill. I spent a lot of time with her in the hospital. I had some role models who were nurses and family members.
Our family had no money for higher education, so I did the LPN [licensed practical nurse] program in high school. After 3 years of working as an LPN I went away to Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. There were about 1,000 students, but I felt that it was big.
JW: You had a job. What drew you back to school?
JL: I think there was a vision of something that I knew was out there that was to be a part of my journey. I kept following it. I was drawn to it. It spoke to me. I was able to spend some time in East Africa with the Mennonite Church in a health care mission setting. I’ve been to China, Jamaica, and Costa Rica.
My Dad is full-blooded; my Mom was white. So I grew up somewhat bicultural, though I spent most of my time in Cherokee community. I’ve always been drawn to other cultures. It’s always been easy for me to work with other cultures. I don’t know if that is because I had to deal with two worlds early.
I did bachelor-level nursing at the college and then worked for 3 years and did some traveling. Next I went to Oklahoma where I did a masters degree at Oral Roberts University and then taught there for 5 years. At Oral Roberts I developed a program in which a whole clinical class of nursing students, not just Native students, spent a semester doing their community rotation at Cherokee Nation.
In 1991 I came to Florida. While I was doing my PhD in nursing at the University of Miami. I did a little teaching for FIU [Florida International University]. Then I took a full-time position at FIU. I’ve been here ever since and have developed their community health nursing program on an outreach basis in Fort Lauderdale and in the Broward County area.
JW: What advice would you like to give to Indian people who want to become nurses?
JL: Look for a nursing program that has a philosophy that considers the whole person. These programs are usually more open to Native American traditional values and beliefs. Also, ask about the ethnic diversity of their faculty. Always maintain connectedness to home. If possible, try to enter a program with a friend who is also interested in becoming a nurse. Remember that the profession of nursing is a great way to serve our people.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2000 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Ben Shorty, Navajo.)
Nurse scientist John Lowe is the focus of an article entitled “Lessons from My Father,” that was published in the Fall, 2008 issue of Minority Nurse. Also learn more about Lowe on his faculty page of the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University.