First in Class
Fox Valley Tops Rankings Among Nursing Grads
It was back in 2012 that Fox Valley Technical College asked residents of its service area to approve a huge bond measure to update the college’s facilities. Such ballot measures frequently are fraught with peril. Asking voters to increase their own taxes is always a risk in times when political divisions are so sharp.
But the voters in and around Appleton, Wis., gave their seal of approval by a comfortable margin, with more than 58,000 voters, or 65 percent of those casting ballots, voting “yes.” It was a resounding victory.
Included in the bond issue was $12 million for the new Fox Valley Technical College Health Simulation Technology Center, a three-story, 66,000-square foot building devoted to training students in the allied health occupations.
Now, about four years after the facility opened its doors, the college, which serves about 50,000 full- and part-time students each year, is seeing its investment pay off. College officials, instructors and students are thumping their chests about the growing success of their one-and two-year nursing programs.
According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Fox Valley’s nursing programs rank first in the nation in an important measure among thousands of colleges around the country with similar programs.
The NCSBN tracks nursing students who take the mandatory National Council Licensure Examination for licensure. For 2017, the percentage of Fox Valley associate degree graduates who took the exam ranked:
• First out of the 37 two- and four-year nursing programs in Wisconsin. All of the 39 graduates who took the NCLEX registered nursing exam between April and September of 2017 passed.
• First out of the 1,079 associate degree nursing programs in the United States
• First among the 1,899 two- and four-year nursing programs in the United States
Students who graduated from the college’s one-year program, who earn a technical diploma and can become licensed practical nurses, ranked:
• First among the 19 LPN programs in Wisconsin. All of the 22 students who took the NCLEX practical nursing exam between April and September of 2017 passed.
• First out of the 883 LPN programs in the United States.
Zoe Cujak, dean of the college’s public safety and health division, credited a combination of dedicated faculty and motivated students for the results.
“Our faculty are very motivated to help students succeed,” she said. “They have done a lot of analysis on what works.”
Sherita Eisner, a student who is working toward her associate degree in nursing, told the Post-Crescent newspaper that instructors help her emerge from the first difficult days of her program.
“Getting through the first few weeks is definitely challenging, but the teachers are wonderful,” she said. “They’re really there to help you.”
The college benefits from a strong crop of students. While the college is an open-enrollment institution, admission to nursing programs is selective. Prospective students need to have completed all their general education requirements. They also must pass a science-based admissions test.
The students — many of whom are career changers and older than the typical student — are highly motivated, Cujak said.
“They are the kind of students who will argue for a A+ instead of an A, she said.
The requirements have created a strong camaraderie among the students, who move through the program together, Cujak said.
“They are very competitive, but they stick together,” she said. “They support each other. But the time they get through, they are the best of friends.”
The nursing program has been experiencing significant growth. The number of students who graduated from the school’s one-year nursing program was 80 in 2016, up from 46 in 2015. The school's two-year nursing program also grew from 70 students in 2015 to 86 graduates in 2016.
The colleges’ health care training center has allowed the college to update its curriculum in a field which is experiencing rapid technology-based change. The state-of-the art center includes 14 human patient simulators, designed to train both career-starters and existing health care professionals. Police officers and first responders also train there, in an integrative format that encourages teamwork and coordination, Cujak said.
The HSTC houses simulation technology from “newborn to adult” for changing and emerging technologies in the healthcare environment, addresses the need for more clinical experiences in health care, creates an environment that fosters interdisciplinary healthcare education, and provides increased opportunities for incumbent healthcare workers to enhance and retain their skills, said college spokesman Chris Jossart.
Each floor in the center was designed with a specific purpose in mind.
The first floor is designed as a virtual hospital, housing an eight-bed emergency room and hospital setting that provides students with realistic training scenarios utilizing human patient simulators. Included are debriefing rooms, a control room for each simulator station, an ambulance simulator, and the newest audio-visual technology to improve the simulation experience for FVTC students. In general, training in this environment replicates clinical experience, increase student critical thinking and confidence, and places an emphasis on patient safety.
The second floor focuses on training students for employment in a clinic or laboratory setting. It has a replicated six-room outpatient clinic, a reception area, phlebotomy lab, and two computer labs. Students who seek training as medical assistants, phlebotomists, and health information technology technicians can train here.
The third floor features training labs for rehabilitative therapy and home health care. The laboratories include mock home settings such as a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. Students learn adaptive home strategies to their clients and will also be utilized to replicate emergencies in a home setting using human patient simulators.
Smart classrooms are located on all floors and feature advanced technology. These classrooms are designed for interactive instruction and will be utilized by multiple programs in the college. Collaborative student spaces are designed to promote group or individual study. The facility will also support continuing education and customized instruction for health care professionals in the community, building skill sets within the existing workforce.
The center stresses collaboration, Jossart said. It’s designed to be a facility that can train paramedics, nurses, medical assistants, and other emergency response students and professionals in one setting.
For years, these critical care providers have trained separately, but now their collaboration is building better practices — steps that could mean the difference between life and death or a poor outcome for many patients.