ANCHORAGE -

Becoming a nurse after college will be a lot harder because of new national testing guidelines -- a challenge which the University of Alaska Anchorage is preparing its nursing students to meet.

UAA's plan is to help those enrolled in its nursing program pass testing under the new rules and be ready to work right away, but its preparations go deeper than merely making the grade.
 
At the university's School of Nursing, officials say their goal is to turn students into stronger and smarter nurses. While getting into the program is already tough, changes to the National Council Licensure Examination, known as the NCLEX, are forcing students to be better prepared when entering the workforce.

"Health care is getting much more complex, and the feeling was that nurses need to have a much more in-depth understanding of all of the health care issues in order to be able to be successful in nursing," said Dr. Barbara Berner, the School of Nursing's director.

The new test scoring thresholds, with some passing minimum scores 10 times what they were under previous versions, are already taking a toll. Following a national trend, UAA's nursing program is seeing fewer students pass the NCLEX.
     
In response, staff are reevaluating the school's curriculum and leaning on several testing programs to help meet the raised requirements.

"If we have some weaknesses in the program, we can look at those areas where we can work with the students to build up their knowledge base," Berner said.

One current School of Nursing student, who asked not to be identified, says she appreciates the aggressive approach. She says some UAA nursing courses currently aren't as tough as they should be in order to prepare her to be a competent nurse in the future.

"I think that's an awesome thing they are doing," the student said. "I'm asking for classes to be hard enough to where like if I get an A in a class, that I actually earned an A in the class."

The School of Nursing is taking a do-whatever-it-takes philosophy, to improve test scores and the pool of nurses that come out of its esteemed program.
 
UAA says the NCLEX costs $200 to take, but can be retaken. The School of Nursing's goal is to offer as much tutoring and support as needed for every nursing student to pass the test.