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Published June 12, 2024

American Indian prof doubles up on doctoral degrees

Margaret Moss is the first American Indian to earn a nursing doctorate and law degree.

A University professor recently added to her credentials and marked a medical first for the American Indian community.

Margaret Moss, an associate professor in the School of Nursing and a Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota enrollee, has graduated from Hamline University School of Law with a Juris Doctorate degree. She is the first American Indian in the country with a nursing doctorate and law degree.

“I’m hoping to ducktail into health policy and to be able to help make sense of legislation and help make people understand how to look for laws as they’re being proposed,” she said.

Besides teaching, Moss conducts research within the American Indian community. During her research, Moss said, she frequently ran into legal barriers such as blanket laws that would negatively affect the American Indian community.

“I kept running into those over and over and didn’t really know what to do with them, so I decided I would go to law school and sort of try to figure out what this was all about,” Moss said. “(The law degree) really helps me understand better these barriers that we don’t really talk about in nursing.”

Moss said there are only about a dozen American Indian doctors of nursing in the United States.

“That’s very, very low,” she said. “You usually need people with higher understanding, and with few (doctors of nursing), it’s very hard to effect change in native populations.”

Moss said there are few people in the United States with a law and nursing degree, and she is the first American Indian to achieve this.

Kevin Washburn, a professor in the University Law School and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, said American Indians are among the most heavily regulated people in the United States, so it is likely that medical professionals will run into legal barriers.

“The intersection of law and public health is very important for any community, especially for Native Americans,” he said.

Connie Delaney, a professor and the dean of the School of Nursing, said Moss has made a statement for the accomplishments of women and American Indians.

“She’s pushing the boundaries by creating this unusual link between nursing and law and the Native American,” she said.

Moss said her research currently focuses on American Indian elders and their needs.

“What they need is not meshing with what the general American Western health care provides,” Moss said.

Moss said traditions such as early morning prayer, the burning of food and fasting need to be considered when taking care of American Indian elderly. She plans to use her knowledge to educate the community about legislation that can lead to adequate care for American Indians.

Delaney said the University is one of the few institutions in the United States that focus on education for the American Indian population.

“We absolutely want to create opportunities for more Native Americans to be in the higher ed community and have advanced degrees,” she said.

Delaney said the nursing school’s American Indian/Alaska Native M.S. to Ph.D. Nursing Science Bridge Program currently provides support for American Indians working toward becoming doctors in nursing.

Misty Wilkie-Condiff, a doctoral candidate in nursing and a Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa enrollee, is part of the program.

“It’s important that we have our own people doing research on our people,” she said, “that way we can be assured that our people’s interests are held to a higher ground.”

Wilkie-Condiff said the goal of the bridge program, headed by nursing professor Sue Henly, is to “enhance or maintain cultural identity while in a predominantly white school and to also increase the number American Indians with a Ph.D.”

Wilkie-Condiff, who has Moss on her dissertation committee, described Moss as “phenomenal.”

“Anyone who can come from an American Indian background and pursue a degree in nursing Ö and then to go and get a Juris Doctorate degree (is) an incredible mentor,” she said.

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