, director of public relations at Union College
When all of Union College’s 2015 graduates passed a U.S. nursing licensure exam on their first attempt, graduate Amber Alas knew it wasn’t a fluke.
“I knew the material. I remembered learning it in class,” Alas said. “I talked to friends from other schools, and they told me they hadn’t seen half the stuff on the test.”
Nationally, only about 85 percent of nursing graduates pass the National Council Licensure Examination — an exam all nurses must pass to receive a license to practice — on their first attempt. Union College’s first-time pass rate for the 27 students who sat for the exam in 2015 is the best in the state of Nebraska.
“The NCLEX-RN is a challenging exam, and we are very proud of all our students,” said Nicole Orian, chair of the college’s Division of Nursing.
The exam is also known as NCLEX-RN.
Brenda Kuhn, chief nursing officer of Adventist-run Kettering Health Network in Ohio, which employs Union College graduates, said the first-time pass rate is based on two things: the ability of the nursing admissions committee to identify students who are prepared to complete the nursing program, and the rigor of the curriculum that prepares students foundationally for the practice of nursing.
“When a school gives a strong foundation to students, the nursing graduates start at a higher level of performance and critical thinking than those from schools that don’t have high pass rates,” she said. “Graduates from strong schools tend to have consistent knowledge, skills and attitudes over time — qualities employers count on when selecting the best nurses to work in their health care organizations.”
Alas, a first-generation college graduate in her family, was attracted to nursing at the age of 13 while watching nurses care for her grandfather as he died from cancer during a two-month stay in the hospital.
“I was very interested in what the nurses were doing, and as we got to know them, I saw how much they cared for my family,” she said. “I wanted to be that person for someone else’s family. I felt God calling me.”
Although she grew up in southern California, Alas decided to visit Union College at the suggestion of one her mother’s coworkers. She said she was attracted to the Christian atmosphere, the track record of success of its graduates, and the friendliness and openness of the students and teachers she met.
Making good grades proved a little harder than making friends, she said.
“I never considered myself a good student,” she said.
And even though she experienced some setbacks, she quickly learned to count on her nursing professors and the college’s academic coaches at the Teaching Learning Center for assistance.
“They always encouraged me and prayed with me,” she said.
She also learned study and organization techniques that helped her improve test-taking skills along the way.
Alas and the other December 2015 graduates are the second class to graduate under a new curriculum launched in 2013 to better prepare students for a dynamically changing healthcare environment driven by technology and information.
“It’s quite uncommon to roll out a new curriculum and experience such immediate success,” Orian said. “Typically, a nursing school would expect to see a temporary decrease in the NCLEX-RN scores while minor revisions are being made to the curriculum.”
She credited the high scores to time spent by the nursing faculty to systematically develop each and every nursing course to include standards of best practice and meet the expectations of the accrediting bodies.
“If a school has focused on intentional preparation — the true science and art of nursing practice — the students are better prepared when they graduate,” said Judy Blair, senior vice president and chief clinical officer at Adventist Health System, one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the U.S. “It’s about more than just books; to be leaders at the bedside, nurses have to understand how to make decisions about what is best for the patient in real life.”
After passing the exam, Alas was selected for a competitive residency program in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — her dream job — at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital back home in southern California.
“The first three months of the program are intense training for the NICU — classroom, skills and clinical studying,” she said.
Then she will become a floor nurse. She says she can’t wait.