Public Media for Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Four graduate from new nursing program in Bethel

The sound of nursing students reciting the International Nursing Pledge after the candle lighting ceremony has not echoed off the walls of Yuut Elitnaurviat in more than 7 years. Yuut Elitnaurviat, which means "The People's Learning Center" in Yu'pik, is a workforce development organization that serves the entire Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta from its campus in Bethel.

The tradition of the candle lighting ceremony commemorates the heroine of nursing, Florence Nightingale, who was seen in the dark alleys with a lamp while caring for injured soldiers of the Crimean War. The lamp symbolizes the light that a nurse becomes to a patient, providing hope and comfort to those who are suffering. Four candles are lit and the wax rolls down towards the hands of the four newly-pinned Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) graduates: Kwadwo Nartey Adonu, Sonya Beaver, Minnie Carter Sharp, and Lawrence Martin of Kasigluk.

“I was a health aide last year this time for [Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation]. And then I injured my hand. And as I was looking at jobs at the hospitals, I wanted to work at the hospitals but I didn't have the credentials or the right papers to work there,” Martin said. “So I started looking and I found out about this program on a Facebook post. It was a couple of weeks old, like God brought me there.”

He chose a good profession to support his wife and four children. According to Indeed, the average LPN in Alaska makes almost $45 an hour, which is about a third above the national average. The outlook for this profession is bright, as it is expected to grow faster than the national average. But it’s more than a job to Martin.

“I was a VPO for a couple of years. And then I became a health aide a few years after that, well, twice actually. My first time being a health aide, it was just a job for me. My girlfriend, my wife now but girlfriend at the time, she just had our firstborn and I needed a job. So I applied for it. So it was just a job for me,” Martin said. “But I came back a couple years later to her village and I liked it. It was something I actually enjoyed doing and loved, and I wanted to further that career.”

The LPN program is a partnership between Yuut Elitnaurviat and Alaska Pacific University. The four students started in January 2022. The program is designed to develop students that can provide culturally safe, evidence-based, patient-centered nursing care. Yuut Elitnaurviat offers all kinds of workforce development programs aimed at placing people from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta into local jobs, and Martin has taken full advantage of what the organization has to offer.

“I got my GED back in 2003. I was only 16 at the time and I couldn't work for two years because I wasn't 18 yet, because they won't hire anyone under 18. But um, yeah, I went to a [Village Police Officer] Academy too, like 11 years ago when they started having it here. And then just last month I finally got my driver's license here too, at the learning center, with their driving program,” Martin said.

Yuut Elitnaurviat Executive Director Mike Hoffman said that he hopes to offer a registered nursing program in the future, which would train students to provide more than the basic nursing care that LPNs offer. If and when they do, you can count on Martin signing up for the first available slot.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.