Low test results force change

After falling to a 75 percent passing rate for the 2013-2014 year in the National Council Licensure Examination for nurses, the University of Rhode Island’s nursing program is making improvements.

If the pass rate at any of Rhode Island’s schools of nursing goes below 80 percent, the school is required to provide an evaluation and improvement plan to the Rhode Island Department of Health’s nursing board, a statement from the University’s Marketing and Communications Department said. The evaluation collected was from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.

In remarks to the Marketing and Communications Department, interim Dean of Nursing Dr. Mary Sullivan said, “The 75 percent pass rate is unacceptable.”

When the NCLEX exam changed, pass rates across the country dipped, according Sullivan. “Now we’re seeing a rebound of that because schools have adjusted to the exam,” she said.

Prior to the change, URI’s program boasted pass rates ranging from 86 to 97 percent.  This data, however, only includes those nursing graduates taking the exam in Rhode Island.

“We have students taking exams in many other places,” Sullivan said.  “About 30 percent of our graduates take the exam outside of Rhode Island.”

Since the drop in the passing rate, Sullivan said that the nursing department has made changes in their policy, including course content as well as raising the GPA required to advance.

“Two or three years ago we changed our policy about the GPA that’s required to continue in nursing,” Sullivan said.   “And we’re evaluating clinical experiences more than we had.” Students also must have a C plus or better in any given course in order to advance, Sullivan said.

According to a statement released by the the university, students must now have at least a 3.0 GPA in their general education courses to gain entry into the program.  The previous requirement was 2.8

In addition, the department has revised their policy on retaking courses, allowing students to retake only one course once. According to the statement, if a student fails a second course “they will be dismissed from the program.”

As the program makes improvements after the 2013-2014 results of the test, some students still feel as though the department could do more.

“I think we should have more than one clinical day per week,” said junior Marissa Connell.  “If I were to go out now, I wouldn’t be ready to be a [registered nurse].”

Connell decided she wanted to be a nurse after seeing a friend go through cancer in high school.  “I wanted to make a change,” Connell said.  Although she feels unsure about some aspects of the program, she said she knows that her confidence can only go up.

“I can’t predict it, but I know that after two clinical courses I’ll feel more like a nurse,” Connell said.  Feeling like a nurse, she said, comes down to knowing what she’s doing when administering medications and dealing with patients.

The nursing program graduates twice a year, with anywhere from 50 to 85 students graduating in December and 100 to 120 graduating in May.  According to Sullivan, many students go on to take review courses before taking the NCLEX.  Despite this, some students still don’t feel ready.  “I was talking to a girl who graduated and she doesn’t feel prepared,” Connell said.

To better prepare its students, the nursing program has implemented a computerized testing program for its juniors and seniors to prepare them for the NCLEX exam.  The program from Health Education Systems Incorporated (HESI) has been found to be 98 to 99 percent effective in predicting success on the NCLEX, according to Sullivan.

Students who are graduating in May must score an 850 or better on at least one of the last two HESI practice exams. “Students earning lower than an 850 will be required to attend tutoring,” a statement said.

With these improvements in place, Sullivan feels confident that the program will continue to succeed.

“We do survey our graduates at one year and five years after graduation, and they’re doing very well,” Sullivan said.  Employers, she added, have had good experiences when hiring URI nursing graduates.  “We’re very proud of our graduates,” Sullivan said.

Despite her reservations, Connell feels optimistic as well.  “The faculty and staff have been really helpful,” she said.  “I know that I’ll learn a lot on the job, so I do feel positive towards it.”

According to a university statement, the nursing board heard URI’s assessment and plan on March 9 and accepted it, requesting an update at the board’s June meeting.