By Daniell Jaillet
*Corrections: A previous version of this story contained inaccuracies. They have been corrected and are listed below.
It is a common scene around Worcester State’s campus: A group of nursing students sit at a table in a dorm’s common room. They begin writing terms on a whiteboard while simultaneously making flashcards to study for their next test. They have been at it for hours, and they will be at it for hours more.
It is all part of one of the most prestigious and arduous academic programs at Worcester State University, and nursing students and faculty alike acknowledge its difficulty as well as its rewards.
On April 18, the university was named one of the top nursing schools in Massachusetts for the third year in a row, an accolade awarded in part because this year 100 percent of WSU nursing students passed the National Council Licensure Examination*, a test governed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing that must be passed to become a nurse.
There has been a significant increase in the number of WSU students who pass the NCLEX exam each year*, with 80 percent passing in 2011, 98 percent passing both 2014 and 2015, and a perfect 100 percent passing rate last year.
Nichole Szatkowski, a sophomore nursing student, knows the rigors of the nursing program firsthand. She currently spends much of her time studying.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say that the nursing program has an extremely rigorous curriculum,” Szatkowski said. “Most classes have five to six exams a semester with an average of five chapters covered on each exam plus a project and a final. We also have a required six hour clinical lab once or twice a week depending on which year you are in.”
Not only is the nursing program challenging, it also requires students to maintain solid grades. Applicants must complete six prerequisite classes, including four science classes, with a grade of “C” or better before the end of their freshman year. During their sophomore year, students have to complete another four required courses in fields such as psychology, sociology and statistics, again with at least a “C” grade. After that, they must get a minimum grade of 80 percent in all their nursing classes to progress in the program*.
“You are expected to study about 36 hours a week,” Szatkowski said. “Most of us will study 56 hours a week.”
Shauna Dooley, a 2013 WSU nursing graduate, remembers how difficult the program was, but she also said it is unique and special.
“It was a tight-knit community,” Dooley said. “Our classes were small, our teachers all knew our names, and our clinical groups were usually five to six students, which maximized the learning opportunities while we were out in the hospitals.”
Dooley worked long hours to prepare for the NCLEX, as passing it would be a crucial component in her journey to success. Following her graduation but before taking the test, she paid for and attended a review class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. She and the other students received a review book that covered just about everything they had learned while in the program.
“I took notes during the review course and I studied that book with my notes like the Bible!” Dooley said.
But the hard work pays off: The program’s academic reputation means that graduates’ job prospects are generally good, Dooley said. Following graduation, she was accepted into a graduate residency program offered at UMass.
“I don’t recall any of my colleagues having difficulty finding jobs after we graduated, and many of them work at UMass,” she said.
Though studying nursing at WSU wasn’t easy, Dooley said, it was well worth the effort in the end.
“Nursing school was quite the journey,” she said. “I had never thought about being a nurse prior; I picked the ‘hardest’ major to challenge myself. It was a difficult four years, [but] it taught me how to prioritize my life, how important organizational skills are, and how to care for patients of all ages with all different types of ailments and how to do it with empathy and compassion.”
*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 100 percent of WSU’s nursing students passed the NCLEX for the past three years. While 100 percent passed in 2016, 98 percent passed in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that freshmen in this program must maintain a 3.0 GPA and thereafter maintain a 3.5 GPA. In fact, freshmen and sophomores must earn at least a “C” grade in all prerequisite and co-requisite classes then get at least an 80 percent grade in all subsequent nursing courses.