Montana State nursing instructor named Distinguished Nurse of the Year

By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service
January 14, 2021

BOZEMAN — A Montana State University nursing instructor has been recognized for her outstanding contributions made to professional nursing.

Leesha Ford, clinical nursing instructor on the College of Nursing’s Bozeman campus, received the Distinguished Nurse of the Year award. The statewide award, which was founded in honor of nurse Trudy Malone, is given annually by the Montana Nurses Association. Candidates for the award must be association members who are knowledgeable, dynamic leaders committed to professional ethics, improving patient care and fostering teamwork.

Ford called it “beyond humbling” to be selected for the honor, particularly in 2020.

“Every nurse working during this pandemic is truly deserving of recognition and honor,” Ford said. “There has been so much responsibility placed on nursing’s shoulders, and nurses everywhere, including our nursing students and faculty, are rising to the occasion. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have to serve on the Montana State Board of Nursing and in educating tomorrow’s nurses in our College of Nursing’s crucial nursing programs. Montana can be proud of its Bobcat nurses.”

Ford was nominated for the award by Laurie Glover, a fellow member of the Montana Nurses Association and an associate clinical professor on the College of Nursing’s Great Falls campus.

In her nomination letter, Glover wrote that Ford consistently demonstrates dynamic leadership in promoting excellence in nursing and demonstrates a keen knowledge of current issues in the nursing profession. She is also widely respected by her peers, patients and students, Glover wrote.

“She is one of the most ethical nurses I have ever known,” Glover wrote, adding that Ford respects all levels of nursing and clients from all backgrounds. “She is a team worker and collaborator, and (she) models positive quality improvement.” 

Ford has served as a clinical instructor with the College of Nursing since 2015, beginning at the MSU College of Nursing’s Great Falls campus and then moving to the Bozeman campus in 2018. Her teaching interests include obstetrics, health policy and economics, pediatrics, foundations of nursing, nursing leadership and community service. Her outreach and research interests focus on child abuse prevention, violence in the workplace among peers, leadership in nursing, creative nursing education and obstetrics. She previously worked as a labor and delivery nurse in Great Falls.

Ford has a master’s degree in nursing education and a bachelor’s degree in nursing, both from Purdue University Global. She is certified in nursing education by the National League for Nursing. In addition, she has an associate degree in nursing from MSU Northern and became a licensed practical nurse through Great Falls College MSU.

“Leesha Ford is a treasure,” said Sarah Shannon, dean of the College of Nursing. “She inspires students to become change agents by modeling how to transform one’s passion for an issue, like children’s health, into tangible action that improves the lives of the most vulnerable patients. Leesha is known for her enthusiasm, creativity, dedication and can-do it attitude. Montana is lucky to have her as a nurse leader.”

The MSU College of Nursing educates students on five campuses – Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula – to be professional nurses capable of working in a variety of settings. It is also Montana’s only public provider of graduate nursing education and offers a Master of Nursing degree focused on rural clinical nurse leadership and a Doctor of Nursing practice program that prepares students for certification as family nurse practitioners or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners. More information about the college is available at Leesha Ford, 406-994-2710 or

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New interdisciplinary class at Montana State to investigate health care needs of LGBTQ+ community

By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — A new class at Montana State University aims to give students studying nutrition and health care firsthand experience working with people from other disciplines to help solve a common problem while researching the health care needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

Colleen McMilin, assistant professor in the College of Education, Health and Human DevelopmentSally Moyce, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, and community partner Cami Armijo-Grover at Bridgercare will lead the work, which is supported by a $5,000 grant from the MSU campus of the Montana University System Institute for Interprofessional Education.

McMilin said new approaches to health care education are needed to help emerging health care professionals develop the skills and values to work effectively on cross-disciplinary teams.

“One of the emerging approaches is interprofessional education in the undergraduate years to foster future collaborations, and a research experience is an ideal mode of providing a common goal among students of different professions,” she said.

Moyce noted that the LGBTQ+ community often faces barriers in health care, such as discriminatory practices during their health care visits, and so some individuals may delay care or decline treatment options. Moyce added that students in the medical professions rarely receive specific training on how to deliver care to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Providing a health care environment to support and affirm members of the LGBTQ+ community would break down barriers faced by this population when in need of potentially lifesaving support,” Moyce said.

During the fall semester class, undergraduates in nursing, dietetics and nutrition science will work together to research how health care providers can create a more supportive environment to improve access to, and delivery of, health care for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Students will interview community members and then collaborate to analyze their data and share their findings with other student researchers and Bridgercare.

In addition, the students will complete what is known as LGBTQ+ affirming health care training, which McMilin said aims to reduce barriers to health care access to improve long-term physical and mental health outcomes for the LGBTQ+ population. With collaboration from local medical providers and members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, Bridgercare developed the training and has delivered it over the last year to groups in Bozeman and across Montana.

McMilin anticipates that students will share their findings at MSU’s annual Diversity Symposium next spring.

The work is important for several reasons, Moyce said. First, students will gain valuable understanding of the professional training their peers get in separate, but related, disciplines. Second, she said students will learn together about the research process, while gaining perspective on an often-underserved community.

“We hope that students will come away with a better understanding of each other, the others’ profession, and about caring for vulnerable patients,” she said.

In addition, the training and the research conducted should help provide a better health care environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We hope this work will help break down barriers faced by this population,” Moyce said. “The lack of knowledge of LGBTQ+ care needs to be addressed for an affirming health care experience to be accessible to this vulnerable population, and students in dietetics and nursing are well-poised for being at the forefront of implementing inclusive health care practices in the community.”

Alison Harmon, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Development, said she is glad to see faculty participating in interprofessional education for the purpose of improving health care. 

“Students learning to work together will develop into collaborative professionals,” Harmon said. “Addressing discriminatory practices and resulting health disparities will require much teamwork over a long term. This is an important and timely research, teaching and engagement endeavor.”   

Sarah Shannon, dean of the MSU College of Nursing, called Moyce and McMilin’s proposal innovative.

“Providing top notch health care requires that interprofessional teams work together to deliver collaborative care,” Shannon said. “But to teach health profession students how to do this takes engaged learning. This class will teach students how to be good team members while simultaneously teaching them how to better meet the health needs of their LGBTQ+ patients. It’s a win-win.” 

McMilin and Moyce will use the outcomes of this fall’s work to tweak the class for future students. The plan is to offer the class each year, focusing on a different research question each time.

McMilin said she hopes the work will provide a model for successfully structuring interprofessional education in the health sciences.

“There are many potential barriers to successful completion of (interprofessional education), and we’re hoping to find innovative ways to work within the system so that our students have a positive experience,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to build interdisciplinary teams of future health professionals that will carry into health care practices.” 

MSU seeks to train dentists for rural Montana

By Gail Schontzler Chronicle Staff Writer

People living in many of Montana’s rural communities and on Native American reservations have no dentists, a problem Montana State University is working to solve.

MSU is working with the University of Washington’s Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program to bring dental students from the Spokane-based program to train in Montana’s rural and Native American communities.

MSU Provost Bob Mokwa gave the Board of Regents a progress report on the RIDE program at their recent meeting in Bozeman. The regents approved the RIDE curriculum in January 2018.

In the last year, new training partnerships have been established across Montana — on the Blackfeet and Northern Cheyenne reservations, in Libby and at Urban Indian Health Centers in Missoula, Helena and Billings. That’s in addition to 18 existing sites where RIDE dental students can train in Montana, from Dillon to Scobey.

MSU officials hope eventually to persuade state lawmakers to create a dental program for Montana students in cooperation with the University of Washington.

It would be patterned after the successful WWAMI program that trains medical doctors from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho and after a similar cooperative program that trains Montana veterinarians.

But educating dentists is expensive – more expensive than training doctors, Mokwa said.

So for now, the RIDE team in Montana has been working to get grant money to expand the number of dentist training sites in rural Montana.

“I’m very encouraged,” said Kathy Jutila, head of the Division of Health Sciences at MSU. “There’s so much interest. It’s so needed.”

Rural dentists have to be “super generalists,” Mokwa said, who can handle everyday dental care as well as have the advanced skills to handle more complicated emergencies in rural communities, where they don’t have the same kind of backup that city dentists have.

Dental students also have to be ready to practice on their own by the time they finish their four years of dental school because unlike medical doctors, they usually don’t go on to get additional training through residencies.

Today, 80% of Montana dentists practice in just nine communities, all urban. A dozen Montana counties have zero dentists. Another nine have just one.

The RIDE team has succeeded in winning grants, but, Mokwa said, future funding from the state will be necessary for long-term sustainability.

In the past year, the RIDE team has landed a four-year $389,000 federal health grant through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and a $46,600 grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation. New grant applications are going out in the next few months.

Montana students can compete to get into the Washington RIDE program now, but if Montana established a cooperative dental training program, Montana students could get their first-year of training in Bozeman alongside the WWAMI students.

“We’re really optimistic,” Jutila said. “It’s so needed in Montana.”

More than 20 Montana counties shown in light yellow have either one or zero dentists for the entire county.Graphic by Montana University System

Via Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Montana University System Institute for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice

The University of Montana and Montana State University have joined together to create a robust, interdisciplinary health sciences education and practice that will benefit patients, students and the health care industry across Montana and the nation. 

Called the Montana University System Institute for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice (MUS IPE Institute), the new program combines faculty programming and curriculum at both UM and MSU. 

Specific partners include UM’s College of Health and MSU’s WWAMI Medical Educational Program; the MSU College of Nursing; the Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine; the Montana Medical Laboratory Scientist Professional Program; the Didactic Program in Nutrition and Dietetics; and counseling graduate programs in MSU’s Department of Health and Human Development. 

The Montana University System Board of Regents approved the new program in May. The new institute will serve as a resource and training center for MUS health profession students, faculty and health care sites and serve as a conduit between statewide health care sites and MUS health care programs. 

Reed Humphrey, dean of UM’s College of Health, said the new institute reflects the skills needed in modern health care and is a move away from single-discipline training in an equally fragmented health care system. 

“To truly treat a patient holistically, health care requires more than one discipline – medicine, nursing, social work, physical therapy and more – to address patient health issues,” Humphrey said. “The collaborative skills are necessary for today’s health care workforce.” Humphrey added that separately educating health students creates barriers to campus collaboration and leaves students ill-prepared for the demands of team-based collaborative health care. All of these issues negatively impact patients. 

“Medicine is so complicated now that a single person can’t do it,” said Kathy Jutila, interim director of the Montana State University Division of Health Sciences. “You require a whole team of professionals. The benefit of the IPE Institute is to start training multiple disciplines that deliver health care – such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, physical therapy and pharmacy – and to start training them as students so they can learn their strengths as a team to efficiently deliver rural health care.” 

To counter these challenges, the MUS IPE Institute will sustain and expand current efforts to enhance interprofessional education in the classroom and clinical environment, while creating better infrastructure to support health care educators and rachitic across the state. 

“The MUS IPE Institute will build on professional expertise to encourage teamwork, shared values and common understanding,” said Kate Chapin, interim co-director of the Institute. “By combining resources our students will be prepared to provide high-quality patient care.”

Humphrey said the launch of the MUS IPE Institute mirrors the MUS goal of interprofessional and collaborative practice. “These programs will create something special for health care in Montana,” he said. 

Via University of Montana News

New collaboration between MSU, UM prepares grads for complex health care careers

BOZEMAN — A new collaboration between Montana State University and the University of Montana is designed to prepare graduates for careers in the complex, interconnected health care system.

The program is called the Montana University System Institute for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice in Health and Medicine, or the MUS IPE Institute. It was approved by the Montana Board of Regents in May.

“Traditionally, students in health care fields are trained in professional silos, yet they are expected to function in complex health care systems that require cross-disciplinary work and collaboration,” said Kathy Jutila, interim director of the MSU Division of Health Sciences. “A sharper focus on interprofessional education among MUS health profession programs will better prepare graduates for the demands of 21st century health care workforce.”

Jutila added that while team-based care is important in all settings, it is especially critical in rural health care settings, where resource limitations especially demand high functioning interprofessional collaboration.

Reed Humphrey, dean of UM’s College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, said the new institute reflects the skills needed in modern health care.

“To truly treat a patient holistically, healthcare requires more than one discipline  ̶ medicine, nursing, social work, physical therapy and more  ̶  to address patient health issues,” Humphrey said. “The collaborative skills are necessary for today’s health care workforce.”

The institute is designed to provide faculty members at MSU and UM with teaching and learning resources so that they are better equipped to help students and graduates succeed. Among other efforts, it will coordinate interprofessional opportunities between health care educational programs on MUS campuses and serve as a conduit between clinical sites and academic programs.

At MSU, the primary units that will be responsible for co-leading the institute are the Division of Health Sciences and the MSU College of Nursing. At UM, efforts will be led by its College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences.

MSU’s Division of Health Sciences works to advance health sciences at MSU in order to improve the well-being of diverse peoples in the state of Montana. Currently, there are more than 40 successful health-related departments, programs and centers affiliated with the division, including the only medical school in the state.

At MSU, professional programs involved in the IPE Institute include the following:

  • The WWAMI Medical Education Program, a cooperative medical education program that allows students from Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho to pay in-state tuition while earning medical degrees from University of Washington’s top-ranking School of Medicine. Before completing their degrees with training at UW’s Seattle campus and medical rotations in the WWAMI region, Montana students spend 18 months receiving instruction from MSU professors as well as physicians at Bozeman Health. In 2013, the Montana Legislature approved a permanent expansion of the WWAMI program from 20 to 30 students annually.
  • The College of Nursing, which trains students to be professional registered nurses. It is also Montana’s only public provider of graduate nursing education and offers a Master of Nursing degree focused on rural clinical nurse leadership and a doctor of nursing practice program that prepares students for certification as family nurse practitioners or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners. The MSU College of Nursing educates students on five campuses– Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula.
  • The Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine. Known as WIMU, students begin their first year of the regional program in Bozeman, housed in the College of Agriculture. Students then complete the final three years of their doctor of veterinary medicine degrees at Washington State University in Pullman. 
  • The Montana Medical Laboratory Scientist Professional Program, which trains health care providers to perform laboratory analyses used in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and maintenance of health.
  • Didactic Program in Nutrition and Dietetics in the Department of Health and Human Development. The program fulfills one requirement for those pursuing licensure as a registered dietician.
  • Counseling graduate programs in the Department of Health and Human Development, which lead to the opportunity to become licensed in Montana as a licensed clinical professional counselor. The department also offers a graduate certificate in addiction counseling, which may be counted toward the Montana Licensed Addiction Counselor Credential.
  • RIDE clinical dental training, a regional dental training program offered in partnership with the University of Washington.
  • The College of Allied Health Professions at MSU Billings.

Through the College of Education, Health and Human Development’s Department of Health and Human Development, MSU also offers majors in community healthfood and nutrition and early childhood education and child services, as well as a gerontology certificate.

While the institute will be initially housed and staffed at MSU and UM, it is intended to be a statewide resource for health profession programs. The institute’s activities and services are expected to be extended to all MUS health profession programs within five years.

“Ultimately, this institute will benefit not only students from MSU and across the Montana University System, but patients and the entire health care industry in Montana and nationally,” Jutila said. “We’re very excited about it.”

More information about the MSU Division of Health Sciences is available at

First-year WWAMI medical students practice exam skiils in a class in a new facility at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

Via Montana State University News

Montana Interprofessional Student Hotspotting

UM will collaborate with Partnership Health Center’s Complex Care Program to implement a team-based, patient-centered, data-driven, approach to serving individuals who experience combinations of medical, behavioral health and social challenges that lead to extreme patterns of healthcare utilization and high healthcare costs in Missoula County. Through home-based, non-clinical interventions that address the social determinants of health, Montana Interprofessional Student Hotspotting seeks to improve patients’ quality of life, integrate medical, behavioral and social care, and increase utilization of primary care services. 

The program will train health professions students to identify and address social and environmental barriers that lead patients to overutilize emergency and inpatient hospital services and underutilize primary care. Jennifer Bell, Co-Prinicpal Investigator and Team Advisor on the project stated, “By bringing Student Hotspotting to UMHM, we are creating an opportunity for students to better understand the patient perspective and address social determinants of health.” 

The team goals are to improve patient health and wellness and decrease healthcare spending. “We are excited to launch a value-added educational program that shifts how health profession students address complex health and helps move the needle towards data-driven, team-based healthcare,” says Kate Chapin, Co-Principal Investigator and Team Advisor on the project. 

Montana Interprofessional Student Hotspotting is funded through a two-year grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation and also by the Montana Geriatric Education Center. 

Via University of Montana News

Improving Access, Training and Recruitment for American Indian Healthcare

The Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana (FMRWM) and the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences (CHPBS) are partnering with Tribal Health of The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to provide cultural humility training for resident physicians and students, clinical learning opportunities through Tribal Health, education for current rural healthcare practitioners, and work toward developing new healthcare services at Tribal Health clinics. The program will train resident physicians and students of other health professions to be better prepared to work within interdisciplinary teams to provide the highest quality care for American Indian populations after graduation. The program will also allow for new models of care to be developed that utilize the resources of FMRWM and CHPBS to bring services to Tribal Health clinics, which previously have not been available. The goal is for these care models to be replicable in order to expand and provide improved access and care for other undeserved populations. The project is funded by a two-year grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation. 

“This is an exciting and unique opportunity for residents and students to learn from and develop greater interest in working with American Indian populations after graduation. The chance to work together in interdisciplinary teams and provide enormous benefit for both the learners as well as the people they work with,” said Darin Bell, MD, Assistant Director of Rural Education at the Family Medicine Residency Western Montana. 

Via University of Montana News