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Nursing school success: Why using more vendors isn't better

Mar 20, 2023, 14:33 PM
<7-min. read> Using multiple vendors’ solutions doesn’t multiply a school’s chances of success. Using the right vendor’s solutions is what’s key.

Achieving nursing school success is based on 1 strong vendor partnership

The University Heights neighborhood in Newark, N.J., is aptly named. Four esteemed academic institutions are located within its boundaries: Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, New Jersey Medical School, and Essex County College.

A few years ago, however, despite being surrounded by scholastic excellence, the nursing program at Essex was laboring under serious difficulties. To achieve nursing school success, administrators at the college — which offers an associate degree, LPN-RN articulation, and PN certificate — turned to one of their own; they asked Gale Gage, PhD, RN, CNE, to step into the role of Chairperson of the Division of Nursing and Health Sciences at Essex. After more than 25 years with the program, Dr. Gage understood exactly what was at stake.

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Challenges of an urban college seeking nursing school success

Dr Gage testimonial

A diverse student population. Dr. Gage said she had seen a new trend emerge among her program’s students. Cohorts today no longer comprise single mothers who have been in the workforce for 10 or more years — women with life experience who are transitioning to careers in nursing. Today’s students are younger — usually just a few years out of high school. They typically are working, have spouses and children, and are predominantly minorities. She added that a good percentage are English language learners (ELLs), and more males are entering the program compared to past years.

Faculty attrition. “We’ve had a huge turnover in faculty,” Dr. Gage explained. While the program employed 14 educators in 2016, it lost five of its most senior members, most of whom were retiring Baby Boomers. To complicate matters, new hires were leaving after only a year. Today, her staff of educators has an average of only 3 years in academia.

Conditional accreditation. Previous staff had been unprepared when ACEN came for its accreditation visit. The result? “Conditions,” said Dr. Gage. ACEN required a lengthy list of conditions on which the program had to report on an interim basis in its quest for nursing school success.

Low NCLEX scores. ACEN took the school’s low board scores into account when putting the school on conditional accreditation.

The school needed change — and soon.

Solutions that seemed like a good idea at the time

To solve its challenges, the Essex nursing program pursued nursing school success by implementing an array of solutions over the previous few years:

Using a variety of vendors’ products. The mix of vendor tools created confusion among students as the program tried to “custom fit” resources that weren’t designed to work together. Each vendor’s platform added to the perplexity of the program’s younger, less mature students.

The mix of resources created another layer of challenges for the school’s English language learners. Many faced the language barrier by trying to translate complex materials before being able to study. And for students already having trouble assimilating to U.S. culture and teaching methods, U.S. assessments were confounding; international students told Dr. Gage they were used to essay-type tests. Their confusion has only grown with the introduction of more complex Next Generation NCLEX (NGN) item-type formats.

Essex sidebar infographic for nursing school successThen there’s the challenge of required reading. Most learners today — international or otherwise — have difficulty handling higher education’s reading workload.

Hiring clinicians when replacing experienced educators. Most of Dr. Gage’s new faculty hires have been nurses coming directly from clinical practice. “It’s a monumental leap for them,” Dr. Gage said. “Being a great practitioner doesn’t always translate into being a great educator.”

At one point, the program tried to supplement the workforce by hiring outside consultants. It was a fail in terms of nursing school success. “We’ll leave them nameless,” Dr. Gage said, “but some of them are well-known in the nursing arena — well-published with their own textbooks.” These individuals’ differing advice left the college in disarray, ultimately leading to the conditional accreditation status.

Finding an ideal partner to match its needs and achieve nursing school success

Dr. Gage realized its program would only succeed with a single partner to achieve its goals. This ideal partner had to provide:

All necessary resources. Essex had previously used several ATI solutions among its mix of vendor products. Dr. Gage said that familiarity — along with the college president “already being sold on ATI” due to his exposure at a previous college — made it natural to consider becoming a Complete Partner, which provides access to nearly every ATI product. “Now we have so much,” Dr. Gage explained. She said the program moved from having “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” to “Wow! We have all of it!”

Download the infographic at right as a handy reference

Dr. Gage cited numerous ATI tools that had been particularly important in its quest for nursing school success. (See boxed information at right.) But her program has found the data within ATI’s solutions to be particularly crucial in helping it move forward. ATI’s “Insights Review” reports, for example, have helped the school look deeply at students’ progress so faculty can calibrate remediation in specific content areas.

Those analytics have also given students confidence. “ATI takes them from that beginning where they don't feel like they know anything to the end, where? Guess what? They feel confident coming out, finishing up that Virtual-ATI, [and knowing] they’re ready to go and take their NCLEX,” Dr. Gage explained.

Another advantage of ATI solutions is their “portability,” Dr. Gage said. Students can access them from mobile devices, as well as laptops, 24/7. And the wide variety of resources allows faculty to choose solutions with different teaching methods and strategies to find the one with which they feel most comfortable.

Crucial faculty development training. With so many new educators on staff, Dr. Gage has found the variety of training resources to be crucial in helping staff feel at ease in their new roles. “If it wasn’t for ATI and the fact that their program is so structured in terms of what we've been able to align with our curriculum and the expectations of the products that fit into our program, [plus] the faculty development piece,” Dr. Gage said, “I don't think our faculty would feel comfortable coming in and being able to hit the road running.”

She cited the convenience of ATI consultants visiting the campus for in-person training sessions, live webinars via Zoom, and recorded sessions available in ATI Academy. The consultants have also been instrumental in supporting faculty learning about NGN, teaching strategies, item-writing workshops, and transitioning to the educator role, among other topics. All contributed to Essex’s nursing school success.

Accreditation support. After experiencing the negative outcome of receiving a conditional accreditation status, Dr. Gage was eager to have expert guidance before the next review. She described her experience preparing with ATI’s consultants as, “phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal!” She said that ATI’s consultants set the tone for faculty to feel confident in their knowledge of the process and the information being presented. The mock visit led by ATI’s consultant was equally powerful in giving faculty direction. “So, we were prepared,” she said. “We passed with flying colors … with continuing accreditation; no conditions.”

Smart resources that make learning easy. Dr. Gage said that a major benefit of ATI solutions was their clear design and sole focus on need-to-know information. With other vendors’ resources, she said, “Sometimes you opened [their] programs, and it’s like, ‘What are they trying to say?’” she said.

ATI’s straightforward approach is especially important with today’s students. These digital learners have limited attention spans and don’t like to read. But Dr. Gage said they stay engaged with ATI resources that simplify reading requirements and incorporate multiple media types, from graphics and animation to videos using real people to explain the lessons. She noted that ELL students also engaged better due to speakers and voiceovers using simple, easy-to-understand vocabulary and speaking at a pace that wasn’t rushed.

High NCLEX scores. ATI’s focus on ensuring students are prepared for the NCLEX is key to Essex’s nursing school success, Dr. Gage noted. Pass rates since becoming a Complete Partner have been above 90% for the last 5 years. That success is no doubt linked to students’ performing well on proctored exams, Dr. Gage added, plus having access to Virtual-ATI, which pairs students with an ATI educator for a 12-week review course.

“Our students don’t just pass,” Dr. Gage said. “They excel. We have numbers that speak to that fact. Our students are now going to RN-to-BSN programs at brick-and-mortar institutions here in New Jersey that are clamoring for [them]. Not because they need students,” she pointed out, “but because they know our students can succeed. There’s a difference.

“I’m a fan of ATI. That’s all I can say.”


Essex County College’s top ATI solutions

“The modules take beginning students and walk them through prioritization to help them develop critical thinking,” Dr. Gage explained.

Using Skills Modules helps students prepare for clinical, Dr. Gage said. Plus, educators can use students’ test results/post-test scores as a “ticket” to class. ”I love the challenge questions embedded within the Skills Modules,” Dr. Gage added. “They stimulate clinical reasoning.”

Dr. Gage said, “I know students don’t read their Fundamentals textbook,” so she hopes to eventually eliminate it with the Engage Series. Engage allows students to experience learning — processing knowledge, visualizing it, applying it, practicing it, assessing it, and remediating it – all on one platform.