Coming up aces

UND Nursing achieves 100-percent pass rate on national exam

Brittany Egeland and Ethan Piemel

Brittany Egeland and Ethan Plemel both passed the national nursing exam on the first try and will be employed by Mayo in the cardiovascular surgery and heart transplant ICU. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

There are tests. And then there are tests.

Brittany Egeland and Ethan Plemel spent weeks studying for four to six hours a day for the national exam that would make them registered nurses.

They knew the test would be tough, and their future depended on passing. If they passed, they both had jobs waiting in the cardiovascular surgery and heart transplant ICU at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“It’s very stressful,” said Egeland, a Grand Forks native who recently earned her nursing degree. “You have no idea how you’re doing.”

All nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX for short. It has between 75 and 265 questions, and a time limit of six hours. For every right answer, the next question gets more difficult. But if you answer a question wrong, the computer spits out more questions. When it decides you’ve either passed or failed, the test shuts down. Students learn their fate a few days later.

“It’s an awful test to take,” said Stephanie Christian, chair and clinical associate professor of nursing. “It’s just nerve-wracking. We prepare students as much as possible so they pass. You need to demonstrate knowledge, higher level judgment and the ability to set priorities. The computer determines whether the student has the knowledge. Pass or fail, the computer shuts off and you get results in several days.”

“I did a lot of studying,” said Plemel, an Oakes, N.D., native who also graduated in May. “The nursing faculty do a really good job of giving students what they need to succeed at the exam.”

Egeland later learned that she passed the NCLEX after answering 75 questions – the minimum number.

“I studied a lot, and reviewed what we had learned at UND,” she said. “We had learned it all.”

Top scores

For the last three classes, UND Nursing graduates have earned 100 percent pass rates on the exam. The national rate is 85 percent, and UND’s overall pass rates have been between 94 and 100 percent.

“The 100 percent NCLEX pass rate represents mastery over a wide range of UND college courses ranging from anatomy to clinical nursing courses,” said Gayle Roux, dean and professor of the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines. “The people who contribute to this extraordinary success are wide-reaching including advisors, faculty, clinical instructors, administrators, and, of course, the students and their families. We appreciate each member of the community of learning that has created this benchmark.”

“It’s exciting to know our students all passed,” said Christian. “We want every student to succeed. This speaks to the strength of our students, faculty, and staff. It takes a village to help them succeed.”

As a state, North Dakota tends to lead the nation in pass rates for the NCLEX, she added.

“The longer students wait, the less successful they are at passing the exam,” Christian said. “We encourage students to take the test early. We focus on preparing well.”

Students learn about preparing for the exam as soon as they’re admitted to the nursing program.

“There is a lot of faculty time invested,” said Christian. “We assess knowledge throughout the curriculum. We focus on management of care, and give the students diagnostic tests to help them focus their efforts. There is a lot of faculty one-on-one assistance.”

“I think UND did a really great job,” said Egeland. “I’m really happy with my education.” She graduated from the accelerated nursing program, which has the same curriculum as the traditional program, but is faster-paced.

“The professors focus on content relevant to the exam,” said Plemel, who also completed the accelerated nursing program. “It’s rigorous, and I feel prepared to meet the challenge of being an ICU nurse.”

Plemel, who also earned a degree in biology, worked at Altru on the oncology floor.

“I decided to be a nurse because of all the great nurses I worked with,” he said. “Most of them graduated from UND. They talked about the program and how well-recognized it was.”

“This accomplishment from our Nursing graduates is a tremendous example of UND’s focus on developing tomorrow’s Leaders in Action,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo. “It serves as a testament to the quality of education our students receive in a profession in such high demand for the communities of our state and region.”

“UND has a great nursing program that’s nationally recognized,” said Egeland, who previously earned a degree in biology and spent time working with marine animals on the Gulf Coast before returning to Grand Forks and UND. “A lot of employers seek UND grads. We are well-prepared.”