Preparing students for success in the health care industry is at the heart of Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Nursing.
The skills and knowledge the students gain while at Southeast can make a difference in people’s health and lives, said Dr. Gloria Green, chair of Southeast’s Department of Nursing.
“We have a consistent record of providing the tools and knowledge students need to launch extraordinary careers,” Green said.
This is evident in historically strong pass rates by baccalaureate graduating classes on the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN), and nursing graduate student pass rates on the Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) certification exam.
In December 2017, Southeast students achieved a 96.43 percent pass rate on the NCLEX-RN, and the department has a 16-year average of 91 percent. The NCLEX-RN is the national licensure examination which allows graduates to be eligible for licensure in any state in the nation.
“I think the figures speak volumes about what we do here at Southeast,” said Julie Twidwell, instructor of nursing and director of the nursing undergraduate curriculum. “We have a comprehensive plan for student success that starts from the beginning of the semester they enter our program.”
The key is having the students engage in patient care and experiential learning from their first semester and to build their skills and hands-on experiences throughout their time in the program, she said.
Having nursing faculty members with extensive clinical and industry expertise also contributes to providing the students a comprehensive and dynamic education.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Twidwell said.
Undergraduate nursing students complete between 860-880 hours of clinical requirements during their junior and senior years. During their last semester, the students complete a six-week practicum and take a NCLEX-RN exam prep course.
“The students are fully engaged and immersed in patient care and in a variety of healthcare settings prior to graduation,” Twidwell said. “Combined with our course designed to build their clinical reasoning skills, we prepare them for the licensure exam and to launch their careers as skilled healthcare providers.”
Hands-on experiential learning is also one of the key reasons for success of graduate students pursuing their family nurse practitioner certificates, said Bobbi Palmer, coordinator of Southeast’s FNP program.
In its 20-year existence, the program’s graduates have achieved a 97 percent first-time pass rate, with a 100 percent first-time pass rate since 2013 on the Family Nurse Practitioner certification exam, well above the national average of 83 percent.
“For nurses who are going to take care of and affect someone’s life, experiential learning and face-to-face interaction throughout our program are key,” she said.
As nurse practitioners, graduates have earned a Master of Science in Nursing and have additional responsibilities for administering patient care above that of RNs, including conducting examinations and diagnosing and providing treatments or prescribing medications.
Southeast’s FNP focuses on preparing students to work in any specialty and provides care for family members of all ages.
“Family practice is really about knowing the family, building a relationship with them,” Palmer said. “There’s a significant level of trust.”
FNP students complete 765 hours of clinical requirements, over 200 more than is required for taking the exam.
Small class size and one-on-one teaching are also key to their students’ success, said Dr. Michele Tanz, assistant professor of nursing for Southeast FNP program.
“The individualized teaching allows us to create a strong, personal support system for each student,” she said. “We know them by name, their families and lives. Our six-to-one student- to-faculty clinical class ratio also allows them to build relationships with one another and learn from and support each other.”
Southeast’s FNP program fulfills a vital role in educating qualified, professional healthcare providers in rural areas throughout the southeast Missouri region, said Palmer.
“Our students are typically from a local, rural area and they go back to their community to live and work there the rest of the lives,” she said. “Students who finish this program have the amazing ability to make a difference in the lives of the people who live in their local community.”
With rural areas facing healthcare shortages, graduates of Southeast’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing and FNP programs can make an extraordinary impact, Palmer added.
The success of both programs and its students has attracted attention from beyond the University’s service region and garnered a positive reputation across the country, Green said.
Having completed both programs at Southeast, it’s a difficult achievement, but the skills and knowledge gained prepares them for what the industry and communities need, Tanz said.
“Our students will tell you they are held to a high standard, but if you want to save patient lives, this is where you go,” Tanz said. “And each year our students rise to that standard and achieve it.”