By Bill Knief
The UNM-Taos Nursing Program has done it again. Every one of its graduates just passed their national boards on the first try. Eighteen months ago, when one hundred percent of the first class passed their boards the first time out, Nancy Ridenouer, Dean of the UNM Nursing Program, said to the best of her knowledge it was the first time that had happened in New Mexico. Now it’s two in a row.
In a comment earlier this week, program director Kathy Falkenhagen remarked, “It’s pretty unusual, to say the least, for that to happen twice, especially in a new program. The benchmark pass rate is eighty percent. If you don’t make that, the board of nursing essentially puts your program on probation.”
I asked her what accounted for this extraordinary success.
“A lot of factors contributed to it,” she said. “But the main factor is the students themselves. This is a tribute to them. It’s not just about grades. It takes focus. They must be determined, well prepared at all times, and willing to make personal sacrifices to reach their goal. It requires discipline and maturity. It’s a serious, full-time commitment. In addition to their class work we tell them that they must study at least two to three hours a night, and eight to ten hours on the weekend. The final board exam alone can take anywhere from two to six hours.
“It’s a huge commitment, but the payoff is phenomenal. The whole program costs around $8,000, and students often have to rely on financial aid in order to devote all of their energies to their studies. Compare that to the for-profit programs that are springing up all over that can cost twenty thousand per year for a two year program. Upon graduation, our students can look forward to salaries starting in the mid-fifties, along with excellent benefits. Plus, they are able to give back to the community that supported them.
“I also attribute the success of the students to the excellent faculty and the twenty clinical sites throughout the area, where students shadow professionals in the real world, and especially to our partnership with Holy Cross Hospital. They are a fantastic partner. The nursing administration, all support staff and the Executive Director, Peter Hofstetter, are so supportive of our educational process. They provide our clinical instructor and they are our primary teaching site. They are always there for us. Of the nine graduates this year, all are already fully employed, six of them right here at Holy Cross. In addition, nine out of the ten graduates from the first cohort are still with Holy Cross eighteen months after graduation. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Meanwhile, the UNM-Taos Nursing Program is within a few weeks of receiving full accreditation from the National League of Nursing.
“It’s a real plus to the graduates to be able to say that they graduated from an accredited school. Accreditation is voluntary. You don’t have to do it; it’s expensive plus it’s a lot of work to prepare a self-study. That’s a 400 page document that I wrote with the help of the nursing faculty. After the study is complete, the National League of Nursing then conducts a week-long site visit to see if your self-study measures up. They don’t just look at data; they interview everyone, including members of the general public. Interestingly enough, the site examiners told me that the alumni from our program were our strongest advocates.
“Then, in Atlanta, the program was reviewed by an elite committee of seventeen deans and directors of nursing programs from across the country. You have to meet 44 standards in six different categories established by the National League of Nursing. They look strongly at credentials of faculty, outcomes, job placement of students. They look at survey data—are employees satisfied with student performance? Are students satisfied with the education they got?
“Now we’ve come to the last step in the process, a final review by the Board of Commissioners of the National League of Nursing. They take one last look at all the material to make sure we meet all standards for national accreditation.
“National accreditation means that our program meets competencies, has the excellence and is on a par with every other program that has accreditation in the nation. With a license from an accredited institution a nurse can go anywhere in the country, or even internationally, and practice.
“It all goes to show that it’s possible to get an excellent education right here in your own home town, and then, if you choose, find employment here. We are fortunate to have a great partner in Holy Cross Hospital, a great nursing staff, plus a great nursing faculty and administration at UNM-Taos. We try to instill in our students that once they graduate it’s their responsibility to give back, not only to the profession but to the community that we live in.”
Isn’t that what it’s all about?