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Compassionate Perfection: WIU Nursing Students Achieve 100 Percent Pass Rate on Licensure Exam

October 16, 2018

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From the Summer 2018 issue of Western: The Magazine for Alumni of Western Illinois University


By Jodi Pospeschil MA '15

When Western Illinois University established its School of Nursing nearly 10 years ago, it did so to address a nationwide shortage of nurses and to provide advanced educational opportunities in the region. As the program has developed, it has evolved into a respected program that, in 2017, posted a 100 percent pass rate on the industry licensure exam, and continues to grow in enrollment and in academic opportunities.

In the department's history, a decade of nurses have graduated from the program, with some going on to become physicians, nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, or continuing their education to obtain advanced degrees.

Lea Monahan, PhD, RN, was named the first director of the program in 2007. Monahan designed the program and wrote all of the documents for the Illinois Board of Higher Education approval, as well as for approval from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) Board of Nursing. She said the standards set for the program in its early stages have helped WIU School of Nursing faculty prepare students with the well-rounded skills and knowledge they need to enter the medical field. The result has been medical facilities reaching out to Western for employees because of its reputation of providing well-trained nurses.

"Our faculty is really good, and they go above and beyond," she said. "We work well together, and everyone is concerned with the students and their successes. We hear back from employers that our students are well-prepared and our nurses come out of orientation for new jobs quicker than those they are hired with. Agencies that work with our students compliment their level of professionalism and preparation."

The School of Nursing also has multiple mentoring programs that match juniors with seniors and faculty members with students.

As the program has grown, so have its class offerings and lab facilities, including a set of simulation areas that provide real-life scenarios for students to react to. The labs are set up like actual hospital rooms, with faculty watching the student responses through a two-way mirror, and can simulate everything from a woman in labor to wound care through the use of simulators and computer programs.

"This helps with critical thinking and, in stressful situations, they can call on that experience," said Monahan.

High Standards Translate to High Test Scores

WIU has one of the highest requirements for clinical hours in the state, which Monahan said translates to hands-on training in clinical facilities, senior living facilities and correctional facilities in the region.

"We place students in schools, settings with older adults, mental health facilities and obstetrics; they get experience in every single area," said Monahan. "Because we are a rural program, we do a lot with the community and community nursing."

Each cohort of juniors and seniors has 48 open seats, and freshmen and sophomores in the pre-nursing program must maintain a 3.0 grade point average to be eligible for one of those seats.

One hundred percent of the students who graduated in 2017 passed the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX), which exceeded the national average of 83.29 percent. Monahan said the program's accreditation agency demands an 80 percent pass rate, and the state of Illinois requires 75 percent. The test is taken by the students after they complete their degree program.

Alumni and Student Successes

WIU alumna Ashley Lynn, of Princeville, IL, graduated from the RN-BSN Completion Program in 2010, became a family nurse practitioner and is currently an instructor at Western. For Lynn, Western was a way to exceed expectations.

"I suspect many people are surprised when they realize I am now a family nurse practitioner and professor," she said. "I am a person who was not born with the best of odds at being as successful as I am, yet I am in an exceedingly awesome field and helping shape the future of healthcare every day."

She said WIU was the key that unlocked doors for her and she praised the School of Nursing's mentoring program, saying it was the key to fulfilling her dreams.

"To call the faculty at WIU mentors is an understatement," said Lynn. "They saw potential in me, and while they did not have to help me see that potential for myself, they did. They did it because that is what WIU School of Nursing professors do. They see the greatness in you and want you to become all that you can."

Current nursing senior Monica Brooks '18, of Carman, IL, said the program has exceeded the expectations she had when she first enrolled.

"The many hours spent in lecture, clinicals, simulations and skills lab prepared me with the necessities to be a successful member of the nursing profession," she said.

It was the variety of clinical experiences that helped senior Kailyn Morrell '18, of Geneseo, IL, decide which areas of nursing to pursue more in-depth, and senior Brandi Crockford '18, of London Mills, IL, said the program challenged her to become a better communicator, advocate and caregiver.

"I am a firm believer that it is not where you come from, it is where you are going," she said. "With the support from the WIU nursing staff, I have confidence that I will be successful in my career as a registered nurse."

What Makes WIU's Nursing Program Unique?

WIU's School of Nursing is one of only a few in the nation that accepts students on athletic scholarships. Next year, nine WIU nursing students will also have spots on Leatherneck athletic teams.

The school also allows military veterans or those in the University's ROTC program to enroll, provided they meet the grade requirements. Monahan is retired from the Army Nurse Corps, where she served for six years.

"She has intimate knowledge of the military and nursing," said School of Nursing Office Manager Carmen Pittman '87.

WIU also now offers an RN to BSN program completely online, which makes it more accessible for working nurses. The program has enrollment from across the country and some international students.

The nursing school is also developing a study abroad component, with the first full-semester coursework coming in Fall 2018 at the University College of Dublin in Ireland.

"We have three students going," said Monahan. "We are the only public university in Illinois with a semester-long program. We also have a robust summer program that prepares these students to go overseas so they can still graduate with their peers or lighten their load during the year. Our summer classes are always full and typically fill up within five minutes after registration opens."

The school already offers short-term healthcare-related trips to areas such as England, Ireland, Haiti and Ecuador.

Where to Now?

Monahan said it is important for those interested in nursing to set a goal of having a baccalaureate degree from a four-year college or University.

"That's where the majority of the research and the new aspects of nursing are being taught," she said.
In the next five years, Monahan said, one-third to one-half of the faculty trained to teach in nursing schools will be retiring and there are not enough replacements in place.

"It is going to start getting tight for faculty and educators," she said. "Not many programs are making the effort to offer the educational foundation and methodology for teaching students," she said.

In terms of future goals, Monahan said she would like to see the WIU School of Nursing grow further to offer a graduate program, so students could continue their education at Western.

Since the program began, it has been honored for quality and affordability. In 2017, College Choice recognized the WIU School of Nursing as a Best Online RN to BSN Degree Program and was among two public universities in Illinois with nursing programs ranked in the top 50 in the nation.

For more information about WIU's School of Nursing, visit

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