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In a diverse area in Alabama where 40% of the population is below the poverty line, nursing is a life-changing career path that provides financial stability and promising opportunities. However, in 2018, the University of West Alabama’s Division of Nursing had a 77% NCLEX pass rate, which is below the national average and the minimum for continued program accreditation.
With the students’ nursing careers and the program’s accreditation on the line, the department leaders created a plan to increase UWA’s NCLEX pass rate to continue to provide nursing education and opportunities for their students. In 2021, the UWA Division of Nursing’s first-time NCLEX pass rate rose to 100%.
Incorporating Online Test Prep Played Major Role
To increase UWA’s NCLEX pass rate, department leaders provided students with additional support in the form of mentorship, grants, and adopted online NCLEX online test prep tools from UWorld. A year later, the UWA nursing program’s pass rate rose to 84%, which was a promising start.
Following the initial improvement, the UWA faculty decided to make test prep a program policy rather than just a recommendation. By making the practice questions required, we could help students build essential test-taking habits throughout the semester, while also seeing what the NCLEX questions are like and learning the material. Online test prep became 5% of a student’s overall grade in Advanced Adult Health and Critical Care, a course students take in the final semester of the nursing program. To meet assignment requirements, students had to complete a minimum of 2,000 questions and achieve an overall score of 65% correct. Most students had to take between 3000 and 6000 test items to achieve the benchmark for the percentage of correctly answered questions. Students had five to six weeks to complete this assignment.
Ultimately, every student in the spring 2021 semester passed their NCLEX on the first attempt, making UWA the only program in the state of Alabama to achieve a 100% pass rate.
When students are given the right tools and are incentivized to use them, success stories like this can happen.
Also Essential: Providing Support for Minority and Disadvantaged Students
Universities can take other helpful measures to provide their students with enough support, resources, and opportunities to experience success. At UWA, many steps are taken to give the diverse student body equal and exciting opportunities including scholarships and mentorships to empower students of color.
In summer 2020, the UWA Division of Nursing was awarded a $2.4 million grant from Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for nursing scholarships over five years. With this grant, UWA created Project EARN (Educating Alabama Rural Nurses), which provides invaluable financial aid scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
When students have financial support through aid and scholarships, they can spend more time focusing on their education and getting ready to take the licensing exam and less time worried about working to pay bills and support themselves or their families
Dr. Mary Hanks, RN, MSN, EdD, the Division of Nursing Chair; and Dr. Chineda Hill, EdD, MSN, CNL, an Associate Professor of nursing at UWA, have also recently developed a new program, Sustah2Sister, that focuses on empowering women of color to build professional relationships and nurture seeds for life-long success. This program is a series of seminars that includes guest speakers to inspire and support women of color at UWA, including nursing students.
The Widespread Impact of Students Passing Their NCLEX
One of UWA’s university-wide missions is to serve the surrounding community. This region in Alabama has a diverse population, with over 40% living in poverty. Just like many places all over the country, surrounding rural hospitals are also in desperate need of more nurses.
When a nursing student passes their NCLEX exam, many opportunities open up for them. The field of nursing is a life-changing career path that brings financial stability to many disadvantaged and minority students.
For UWA nursing students, passing the NCLEX opens up the opportunity for immediate job placement in an industry that has a constant need for more qualified workers. After passing their NCLEX, many UWA graduates decide to stay and work in Alabama, with some going to work in the rural areas that are experiencing a nursing shortage crisis. Since studies show that patients respond better to those that look like them, it’s valuable to the community as a whole that UWA’s diverse nursing students are now entering the workforce.
Increasing the NCLEX pass rate to 100% was an impressive feat, but it also has real-life outcomes that are widespread and optimistic. Ultimately, the UWA Division of Nursing’s success story can be attributed to many factors. With supportive department leaders, hardworking students, university-wide efforts, and the right test prep tools, nursing programs across the country can thrive.