Brenda Sloan’s office sits buried in the middle of the Burns Hall of Science and Nursing at Indiana Wesleyan University, a testament to the school’s successful history producing healthcare professionals.
IWU alumni perform better than the U.S. average on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. The NCLEX serves as a post-graduation test for nurses that determines if they move on in their career field. In 2013, 88.5 percent of IWU grads who took the test passed on their first attempt, compared to the national average of 83 percent.
Sloan apologizes for a “messy” desk that would put some of the most organized students to shame. A well-worn Bible leans side-by-side with nursing books. Pictures of past graduating classes hang on the wall. NCLEX books, study guides and review games line the assistant professor’s shelves.
“We are concerned about the NCLEX pass rate, and we have to be, because the state board mandates that we do,” Sloan says, referencing the increase in test standards and subsequent national drop in pass rates. “But when our pass rate drops, we feel badly because each one of those percentage points represents a student who did not pass.”
While 90 percent of all nursing hopefuls passed the NCLEX in 2012, that number dropped to 83 percent in 2013.
IWU nursing faculty aren’t the only ones thinking about the university’s above-average rate.
Meet Linnea Williams (sr), one of nearly 100 soon-to-be IWU alumni taking the NCLEX in the months following April’s graduation.
“For most students they look at graduation and it’s exciting, it’s over. But for nursing students, graduation is the beginning step of it,” Williams says. “It’s terrifying because four years of school comes down to this one test; you can graduate and get your degree and still waste that four years if you don’t pass.”
That’s something students like Williams don’t want to think about, so IWU’s School of Nursing provides multiple ways of testing to prepare its students starting freshman year. The goal, Sloan says, is that students will not “go to NCLEX and find many questions that they’ve never heard of.”
The nursing curriculum prepares students in multiple ways, including frequent testing, hands-on experience at medical institutions and practice exams known infamously to nursing students simply as “ATIs.”
Even after IWU nursing students graduate, the university provides one last assist. New grads can enroll in a three-day intensive class the week after graduation, spending six hours a day reviewing a four-year study guide.
Yet while Sloan’s office shows every indication of those vigorous preparations, she says the key to IWU graduates’ NCLEX success might go beyond standardized tests.
“Our faculty do an amazing job of keeping in touch with students,” Sloan says. “We meet with each student individually. Some we tend to mentor more than others, depending on the need we see.”
“This school prepares us really well for it, but there’s still a big aspect of fear,” Williams says, commenting that even now, she thinks about the NCLEX “all the time.”
Jordan Wible (alumnus ‘13) represents a recent success story in the nursing department who no longer has to worry about the NCLEX. Wible passed the test on his first try in late January, and commends IWU for its program.
“I think it prepared me pretty well overall. The NCLEX is pretty knowledge-based, and the knowledge you learn in school is pretty important,” Wible says, admitting he was still nervous going into the exam. “In general you don’t really know what to expect.”
But after all the exams, quizzes, studying and everything else that goes with preparing for nursing’s biggest test, Wible can say the words that make it all worth the work:
“It’s so nice to be able to finally call yourself an actual nurse.”