First Cohort of 12-Month Program Overcomes Pandemic Challenges
Becoming a nurse in one year sounds like an impossible task. But the 53 graduates of the first 12-month BSN cohort at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center achieved that goal during the COVID-19 pandemic and attained a 100-percent first-time pass rate on the National Council Licensure Exam-RN® (NCLEX).
“This first-time NCLEX pass rate is a testament to the resilience and dedication of our faculty, staff, and students,” said Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-Bc, FAANP, dean of the College of Nursing. “To have achieved this during a pandemic, when many challenges were presented, is remarkable.” The national average for first-time NCLEX pass rates was 87.53 percent in 2020, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.
UTHSC’s accelerated, 12-month BSN program seeks students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. The BSN cohort that graduated from UTHSC in August, 2020, was also the first group to use the concept-based curriculum introduced by faculty last year. “We made a conscious decision to use concepts to drive our curriculum to enhance clinical decision-making and reduce content overload,” said Randy Johnson, PhD, RN, the BSN program director and an associate professor in the College of Nursing.
Dr. Johnson attributes the students’ perfect NCLEX pass rate to the concept-based curriculum. “The curriculum was developed by faculty to address priority concepts and exemplars that are most reflective of the current clinical practice,” he said. This curriculum focuses on linking overarching concepts to a variety of disease processes and allows students to apply similar actions to different situations, he said.
The move to a concept-based curriculum is a trend in nursing education and represents a paradigm shift, according to the article, “Concept-Based Curriculum: A National Study of Critical Concepts,” published in the journal “Nurse Educator” in 2019. Such a curriculum focuses more on higher-order thinking than memorization.
When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred in the middle of the 12-month program, the faculty quickly pivoted to remote teaching, Dr. Johnson said. Classes were still live, but were done virtually. The college also worked hard to ensure that students could continue their clinical education, which typically occurs in the hospital setting.
When personal protective equipment in the hospitals became a concern, the college transitioned to virtual clinical experiences for students. But faculty continued to work closely with clinical partners, and the UTHSC College of Nursing was one of the first nursing programs in Memphis to return to in-person clinical rotations, Dr. Johnson said. The college took extra steps to ensure student and patient safety, such as pre-clinical testing for COVID and adherence to Centers for Disease Control guidelines for quarantining and retesting.
The college enrolls students in the 12-month BSN program twice a year, in the fall and spring. The next application cycle for the BSN program opens January 15 and closes May 15, 2021, for program entry in August.
UTHSC has a legacy of leadership in nursing education. It was the first college of nursing in Tennessee, as well as the first to offer a PhD in Nursing Science and a Doctor of Nursing Practice program (DNP) in the state. The college was among the first in Tennessee to offer a BSN program, initiating the traditional BSN program in 1950.
“Our programs at UTHSC College of Nursing have always been cutting edge, and we are proud to offer this accelerated program to produce much-needed nurses to care for our community, particularly during this time,” Dr. Likes said.