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First class of 12-month Accelerated Nursing students earns a perfect pass rate on NCLEX

Dr. Joylyn Anderson teaches the 2024 12-month Accelerated Nursing class.

The first class of nurses graduated from Concordia College’s 12-month Accelerated Nursing program in December 2023, and every single one of them passed the national examination required to become a licensed registered nurse.

Despite the famously challenging nature of the test — its pass rate in 2023 was about 70% nationally — no one seemed surprised.

“The faculty that teach in the accelerated nursing program work really hard to ensure that we are preparing bachelor’s-prepared nurses ready for today’s challenging healthcare system,” said Dr. Joylyn Anderson, program director of Accelerated Nursing. “We are intentional about what we are teaching our students, placing an emphasis on safety and evidence-based practice.”

Famously daunting, the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is a computer-adaptive test, changing based on how someone answers questions. Candidates have a maximum of 6 hours to take the test, which includes a tutorial, and there are two optional break periods. Everyone answers at least 75 questions, but the test can include a maximum of 145, with 15 experimental questions that don’t count.

Those who fail the test must wait another 45 days before they can take it again. Those who pass can become licensed RNs.

The NCLEX goes far beyond testing a prospective nurse’s memory and understanding of the material, focusing on more complex levels of learning. The test is organized into four different Client Needs categories — safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity. And the fundamental processes of nursing can be found throughout the test, from clinical judgment and caring to documentation and teaching and learning.

“The NCLEX exam identifies safe and competent nursing practice,” Anderson explained. “We are focused on making sure that we are preparing safe, competent, and knowledgeable nurses ready to meet the diverse needs of today’s healthcare environment.”

“We just had a really good group of students. Everyone took it very seriously,” said Kayla Thorson, an accelerated nursing student in the cohort, who originally graduated from Concordia in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and exercise science. After working in just about every capacity a dietitian can work in, she realized she wanted to be more hands-on, performing some of the many skills dietitians don’t. “You can do so much as a nurse.”

Kathryn Messler, who graduated from Black Hills State University with a degree in biology, did oncology research at a hospital afterward, performing a lot of data entry and lab work.

“I really missed being able to be hands-on and get that patient experience,” she said. “And I worked with a lot of nurses, so they paved my way and got in my ear about exploring nursing. I started looking into it, and started thinking ‘that would be awesome!’”

Concordia’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program provides a fast-track to the NCLEX and to that license for students who have already earned a baccalaureate degree with a non-nursing major. It’s primarily designed for adult learners, who take 54 credits in a year, including 500 hours of clinical experience and arranged clinical rotations.

“A person has to be really good at managing their time,” Thorson said. “It was a full-time-plus job… it was a lot, and I wouldn’t’ve been able to do it without the support of people around me as well.”

The accelerated program isn’t for everyone, as it can be an intense ride for the students, who are essentially taking two semesters in one, and maintain that pace throughout the 12-month year, even in the summer. As such, Concordia also offers a traditional four-year nursing program for students earning their first bachelor’s degree in nursing.

There are no shortcuts in the accelerated program, and its students complete the same amount of work as those in the four-year version. It is classroom-based, with accelerated nursing students having classes three or four days a week, with an additional two to three days of clinical experiences. Clinical schedules vary, too, across day, evening, and night shifts, on weekdays and potentially weekends.

“The biggest thing is dedication to the program,” Anderson said, explaining that it’s especially good for fast learners who can learn in a fast-paced environment. Students need to be truly dedicated to helping people, and able to take the time to focus on the work.

Due to the deliberately small size of the program, set up for cohorts of 20 students or fewer, class sizes are also small, and designed to be active and engaging, allowing students to learn visually and through experience as well.

“The professors — they want you to succeed. And you’re not just a number; they care whether you succeed or not, and they’re willing to sit down with you and take the time and get you to understand something, like ‘Let’s break this down, figure out what happened, and help you grow,’” Thorson said.

“I had fabulous mentors throughout my entire journey at Concordia, wanting me to succeed and just making sure I do, and going out of their way to make sure I do,” Messler said. “It makes a huge impact in being able to be where I am today.”

Messler is a nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“I enjoy the more critical-care patients, the higher-acuity ones,” she said. “It’s one to two patients, trying to focus on them and overcome the hardest parts of their lives. It’s nice to try to make an impact on families and patients in those difficult times. It’s tough, but rewarding most days.”

The accelerated nursing program also has some requirements other programs may not have, including not just the baccalaureate degree, but a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher on all post-high school coursework and a combined GPA of 3.0 or higher on prerequisite courses, which include psychology, human nutrition, human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, chemistry, and mathematics.

Every one of the newly minted nurses from the 2023 cohort has a nursing position, some in clinics, others in hospitals, working in a variety of specialties including burn units, obstetrics, oncology, and cardiac care.

“I’m in week 10 of orientation and I can honestly say being a nurse is very hard, there’s no question about it — but I also love it. And you’re constantly learning,” said Thorson, now a nurse on the Med/Surg/Ortho floor at Sanford Bemidji, where she completed her practicum.

“Everybody is just so willing to help you and help out, and teach. They’re really helpful, and that is so huge, a big thing,” she added. “It’s been a good transition from school to here.”

The application cycle for 2025 is now open. Classes begin in January.