During the current national nursing shortage, making sure our nursing students are properly prepared for the national licensure exam is the main priority for faculty and administrators at the University of West Alabama Division of Nursing. In 2019, our National Council Licensure Examination pass rate was 77%, which fell below both the 2019 national pass rate for associate of science in nursing programs and the minimum standard in Alabama to maintain board approval.
After including new resources and mandating test prep as part of our students’ grades, we managed to be the only nursing program in Alabama to reach a 100% NCLEX first-time pass rate in spring 2021. Here’s how we did it.
UWA’s action plan to increase the NCLEX pass rate
To better prepare our students for their NCLEX exam and ensure continued accreditation for our nursing program, our department leaders mapped out a strategy.
Provide mentorship and retention specialists. Faculty mentors have been used for many years to help support students emotionally, academically and professionally. However, with a limited number of faculty, UWA nursing students were still not experiencing the degree of success for which we were aiming. In 2020, the UWA nursing division started using two retention specialists who focused on strengthening students’ test-taking skills. Each student is assigned a faculty mentor and a retention specialist who work in tandem to provide students with a full spectrum of support.
Offer more scholarship opportunities. One way we try to help our students is through acquiring grants that provide financial aid, especially to disadvantaged and minority nursing students. In 2020, the Health Resources and Services Administration awarded our program $2.4 million over five years. We’ve used this for scholarships that have been instrumental in allowing students to focus on studying and successfully completing a rigorous nursing program instead of working to support themselves and their families.
Provide NCLEX test prep tools — and make them mandatory. Although mentorship and scholarships have been beneficial to our student’s success, the biggest increase in our NCLEX pass rate came after we incorporated UWorld’s NCLEX test prep tools into our curriculum. The tools include challenging NCLEX exam practice questions with detailed rationales, helping students become accustomed to what the NCLEX will be like.
To make sure students were truly prepared for the NCLEX, we made this test-prep completion part of their grade. For 5% of their overall grade in Advanced Adult Health and Critical Care, a class taken in the final semester of the program, students had to complete at least 2,000 test-prep questions and achieve a minimum of 65% correct. Students had five to six weeks to complete this assignment.
Most students could not attain the benchmark of 65% correct when answering 2,000; instead, they needed to tackle anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 practice questions.
In spring 2021, after implementing our action plan, all 28 graduates passed the NCLEX exam and entered the workforce with their nursing licenses.
The broad benefits of passing the NCLEX
UWA is in an area of Alabama where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, so passing the NCLEX exam and getting a job as a nurse is life-changing for many of our students. It gives them the opportunity to quickly get a job and achieve financial stability for themselves and their families. Our students are entering a rewarding field that has a good starting salary and a constant need for more nurses.
After graduating and passing the NCLEX exam, 100% of our students can find a job in nursing. They even can choose where they want to work, with most of them proudly staying in Alabama to help our community. Many are deciding to work in Alabama’s rural areas that are desperately seeking more qualified nurses.
To keep the nursing shortage from getting worse, we hope our 100% NCLEX pass rate will attract more students to train as nurses at UWA. Having that impressive statistic to show may also help us earn more opportunities and grants for our students, who will become the future nurses that our community and our country desperately need.
Kelly McClure, MSN, RN, CNL, is an assistant professor of nursing at the University of West Alabama. She worked as a bedside nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit until 2017, before transitioning into nursing education. At UWA, McClure uses the UWorld test-prep program for the NCLEX test.
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