Head of the Class: Nursing Program Making Best Marks in Arizona

August 14, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau

Shanna Cunningham gets affirmation almost daily on her decision to attend GCU and start a second career as a nurse.

Sometimes it comes from the classes she takes or the faculty members she comes in contact with. Sometimes it’s in the Scriptures that are scattered about the College of Nursing building. Sometimes it’s in her dealings with health-care professionals at local hospitals.

Carolyn Wilder (left) and Shanna Cunningham are in their 40s and are starting new careers as students in the College of Nursing. They serve as vice president and president, respectively, of GCU's Student Nurses Association.

And sometimes it even comes when she’s working part time as a waitress at Babbo’s Italian Eatery in north Phoenix.

“When I’m just talking to customers and I tell them where I go to school, they’re like, ‘Ooh and aah, that’s a good school. You’re not going to have any problem getting a job,’” said Cunningham, 42, a mother of four who previously worked as a manager in a law firm. “And people in the medical field, they know and respect GCU for putting out good nurses.”

The statistics bear out Cunningham’s experiences.

In 2011, GCU nursing graduates achieved a 95.79 percent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examinations (NCLEX), which are required in order to be licensed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. That was the best showing among bachelor’s degree programs in the state — better than the University of Arizona (95.59 percent), Arizona State University (90.09) and Northern Arizona University (88.69 percent). It also far exceeded the nationwide pass rate of 87.9 percent.

Graduates of the GCU nursing program had a 95.79 percent pass rate on the NCLEX test in 2011 – the best showing among four-year universities in Arizona.

In the first quarter of 2012, that number rose even higher for GCU, to 98.51 percent (again, highest among four-year schools in the state). In other words, 67 nursing graduates took the NCLEX in the first quarter, and only one did not pass.

Those are extraordinary numbers, even for a school that has long prided itself on its nursing program.

“The score just shows how robust our bachelor’s of nursing degree program is and the great pride we take in the success of our students,” said Dr. Anne McNamara, dean of the College of Nursing. “With the addition of our state-of-the-art simulation training lab and partnerships with highly respected health systems, GCU nursing graduates are among the best-prepared and sought-after job candidates.”

In addition to the main campus, GCU’s nursing program has satellite campuses at Scottsdale Healthcare, AT Still University in Mesa and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, and others in Albuquerque, N.M., and Tucson.

In all of them, two things stand out:

  • A strong faculty-student relationship borne through a private education setting in a smaller environment.
  • A Christian worldview perspective that is prevalent throughout the program.

“I think that’s what makes us different, I really do,” said Dr. Cheryl Roat, associate dean for the College of Nursing. “We have a great-quality program and fairly small classes. But the Christian environment, that’s why some students choose to come to Grand Canyon. We don’t try to indoctrinate students necessarily, but we integrate spirituality into every course that we teach so that they can provide relevant, pertinent spiritual care to their patients.”

Carolyn Wilder, a 44-year-old mother of five, is one such student.

“To me, nursing goes hand in hand with Christianity and caring for others before yourself. I really liked that about the school,” said Wilder, who could have attended any state school with a presidential scholarship. “We are able to respond to patients on a spiritual level as well as an emotional and physical level.

“There’s something about the personal nature of the program that helps students feel like they can succeed. And having that spiritual guidance … whether you believe in God or not, just having people around you who are willing to help means a lot.”


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