By Christina Blizzard, Queen’s Park Columnist
After spending thousands of dollars to get degrees, new nursing graduates are finding they must hand over hundreds of dollars to a private U.S. company to take the “admission to practice exam” that allows them to work in this province.
The new exam is being criticized for being inappropriate for Canadian nurses — in some cases it uses imperial measurements instead of metric to calculate medications — causing pass rates to plummet for new grads.
Introduced last year, the NCLEX exam, based in Chicago, replaced the national Canadian licensing examination in all jurisdictions except Quebec. It’s the property of the U.S. National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the organization made up of state nursing regulatory bodies for U.S. nurses.
Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, says there’s no transparency in the way the results are made public. She’d like to see a two-year transition period to ease into the new test.
While the first-time pass rate for Ontario students was a dismal 68%, NCLEX is reporting it much higher because it included results of student nurses who passed after multiple attempts.
It’s not a question of low Canadian nursing standards. Our nurses are some of the best-trained in the world. It can’t be coincidence that suddenly the standard of grads across the province has dropped. The exam was changed because the Canadian one was paper only and the U.S. one is electronic.
“We’ve had valedictorians, we’ve had dean’s list students fail the exam,” Silas told me.
It’s costing Canadian students thousands of dollars to re-sit the exam. It costs $360 US every time they write it and they have to purchase preparation courses, which can run $300-$600 a piece, as well as online courses. If they fail three times in a row, they have to go back to restart their four-year nursing degree.
This is on top of the tuition they’ve paid to get a nursing degree and a nursing licence.
Silas says Canadian students here have collectively paid as much as $6 million to retake the exams since its inception. They can’t work until they pass the test.
“When the results started to come in, they were shocking in the reduction in the passing rate,” she said in an interview.
For student nurse Nicole Eves, failing the exam meant being out of work for seven months, which was difficult because she has a huge student debt to pay off.
She spent $1,200 to NCLEX on practice courses and other resources before she finally passed the exam. It’s unfair, she says.
”We dreamed of this for so long. Instead, we are treated as guinea pigs. We have no voice and we have no choice; $2,360, six months, and a jar of tears later, I passed the NCLEX. I don’t even feel excited, just relieved,” Eves said.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins says this is an “important priority” for him and he’s working with the College of Nurses on it.
“This needs to be a nursing exam that reflects the reality in Canada and what Ontario nurses are expected to know and that’s the foundation of my engagement of working on this to make sure that’s the case,” he said.
Let’s hope so. The kind of young people who go into nursing are those who want to dedicate their professional lives to caring for others in their time of need.
Let’s not let them down.