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Once a nursing school flunkout, now a program director

Nov 17, 2023, 15:55 PM
For many students, the path to nursing can be sidetracked for all kinds of reasons. This is the story of a nurse who flunked out of his first program but didn’t give up on his dream. ATI resources were influential in his eventual academic success. <6-minute read>

Aaron A. Gann, MSN, RN, CMSRN, CNE, considers his unusual academic history a badge of honor, and he shares it openly with nursing students and faculty alike. After barely passing pharmacology and then flunking pediatrics twice, Gann was dismissed from the ADN program at Amarillo College (Texas) in 2013. Ten years later, he is the Program Director of the Vocational Nursing Program at that very college — and he has earned a BSN, an MSN, plus certifications in med-surg nursing and nursing education.

“Within the span of a decade, it's amazing where life takes you,” he said. “I thought I was never going to be a nurse. … But here I am today heading up a program.”

From English teacher to nursing student

Gann’s nursing journey began in 2011, when he enrolled in a CNA program in Killeen, Texas. He had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in English and taught middle school students. But when he and his wife relocated to Killeen, he was unable to find a teaching position and decided to make a career change. His family roots in nursing run deep (spouse, father, mother, brother, sister-in-law, and more) and he thought it was finally time to join the fold.

Aaron A. Gann, MSN, RN, CMSRN, CNEAfter he completed the CNA program, his wife’s career path took them to San Antonio and then Amarillo. He took prerequisite courses for nursing school admission along the way, and started the ADN program at Amarillo College in 2012. He recalls it feeling a little foreign to him given his experience teaching literature, writing, and English — and his natural proclivity for “going off for days about what the color red symbolizes in a passage.” The discussions in nursing class were … different.

“I had a hard time going from my natural interpretive thinking to being analytical,” Gann said. “It didn’t come naturally for me to analyze the facts and cues and all the things that go into being a nurse. I squeaked by in Nursing Fundamentals, and I squeaked by in pharmacology.

"When I go back and think about it from the educator side now, I should not have progressed to that pedi class. I was not prepared to be a nursing student.”

A reunion and a twist of fate

As he regrouped after the program dismissal, Gann took a sales position at Best Buy. It was there amid a sea of widescreen televisions that his quest to become a nurse was revived — thanks to a former nursing instructor who was shopping for a new TV. (Sounds like the makings of  an inspiring screenplay, right?)

“He had taught my mental health class in the ADN program and was surprised to see me there,” Gann recalled. “He said, ‘I thought you’d be a nurse by now.’ When I explained what had happened, he recommended that I look into the LVN program at Amarillo College, which I could complete in a semester. I called the nursing advisor the next day.”

Soon after that call, Gann met with the program director and was back on track toward his goal. And this time, two particular factors empowered him to be more successful.

“My wife had recently completed a BSN program, and she helped me prepare to study like a nurse and to think like a nurse,” he said. “The other big difference maker was ATI. The LVN program used ATI materials, but my RN program used a different company. I found that ATI materials were more helpful and user-friendly for me.”

In particular, he said he valued the Content Mastery Series, which provides learning modules that include extensive rationales, plus practice assessments and proctored assessments to gauge learning.  

Gann excelled in the LVN program and credits his wife’s coaching, the excellent faculty, and the integration of ATI study resources and assessments. “The instructors had this expression — ‘ATI until you die.’ So, we went through ATI materials over and over again. And when it came time to take that Comprehensive Predictor, I scored 98%,” he said.

“It just blew me away to think that a nursing school flunkout could do that well and actually have that amount of knowledge and confidence going into the NCLEX. I took the minimum number of questions, and I got that passing result.”

Lessons learned, lessons to share

Gann said his first attempt at earning a nursing degree provided valuable lessons that have shaped him as an educator and nursing professional.

“I feel that if I hadn't flunked out when I did, I wouldn't be where I am now,” he said. “For one thing, I wouldn't have caught the eye of the LVN instructors who later asked me to become a clinical instructor. And secondly, my experience is something I can share to encourage nursing students to keep going.”

After graduating from the LVN program, Gann worked in hospital med-surg units for 3 years. As a result of his experiences as a clinical nursing instructor for Amarillo College during that time, he eventually felt a strong pull to the role of nurse educator. He joined the LVN faculty at the college in fall 2019 and became the director of the program in fall 2021.

The use of ATI products in the LVN curriculum is an important component of the program’s high NCLEX pass rates, Gann said. “We’ve averaged 96%-97% for several years. We haven’t struggled in the same ways some programs have struggled, and I think a lot if it is because we’ve been using ATI.”

Specifically, the LVN program at Amarillo College is an ATI Complete Partner that incorporates the Engage Series, the Content Mastery Series, the Comprehensive Live NCLEX Review, and Custom Assessment Builder.

“What I like most about ATI, and what the students tell us, is that it matches the NCLEX so very well,” he said. “They feel supremely confident coming out of the NCLEX because of ATI. And they've told me word for word that ATI really helped them prepare for that exam.”

How ATI resources help faculty

In addition to bolstering student learning and success, Gann said that ATI resources support faculty in meaningful ways.

“We are constantly asking more and more of the nurses who decide to answer the call to become nurse educators,” he said. “They have to wear so many different hats to meet the needs of students, and ATI helps educators wear all of them.

"It provides the support they need — when they need it and where they need it. It also identifies the areas where students are deficient. ATI makes the job of being an educator a little bit easier.”

As Gann and his colleagues at Amarillo College undertake an update and revision of the LVN curriculum, he said he plans to implement more ATI products so that students and faculty can benefit from the Capstone Comprehensive Review. This offering is tailored to each nursing program and integrated as a curriculum supplement in preparation for the ATI Comprehensive Predictor exam. Gann said he is encouraging the ADN program at Amarillo College to adopt ATI solutions as well.

“ATI made a huge difference for me. It gave me the confidence that I needed to become a great nurse, and I see ATI doing the same thing for our students,” Gann said. “It's building confidence and developing the competent practitioners who will care for our community.”

Next up, a DNP degree and retention strategies

Gann plans to stay firmly rooted in nursing education. So much so that he is pursuing a doctor of nursing practice degree with a focus on educational leadership. His particular area of interest is student retention.

“Every nursing student I admit who doesn’t graduate is one less nurse out there in the workforce,” he said. “I really want to get our retention rates to greater than 95% by the time I retire.”

Aaron Gann and Priscilla Gann are shown with their sonAs he continues to pursue goals both established and new, the person who has been by Gann’s side since the beginning of his nursing journey is joining him on this leg as well.

His wife, Priscilla Gann, MPAS, BSN, RN, PA-C, CNOR, CNAMB, CCRN, is also pursuing a DNP degree. She practices as a clinical nurse educator at the Amarillo Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and also plans to focus her DNP studies on educational leadership.

“We have a 5-year-old son, and we want to complete these degrees before our life gets busy with his extacurricular activities,” Gann said.

“My wife has been my constant support and motivator. I see her drive and passion for nursing, and it pushes me to be the best educator I can be. I love being a nurse and I am forever grateful that she helped me become one.”