School of Nursing recovering from probation

Ever since the undergraduate program at the University of Miami’s School of Nursing and Health Studies was put on probation by the state of Florida’s Nursing Board last April, program administrators have been working on new ways to improve the school’s reputation

The school was put on probation because of low test scores on the NCLEX, the Florida nursing board licensing exam. UM students scored an average of 72.9 percent on the NCLEX, almost seven percentage points lower than the national average.

To improve scores, workshops are being offered on the weekends and evenings at no cost to the students.

“We ask students where they need extra information,” said Dr. Elias Vasquez, the associate dean for undergraduate programs and a member of the curriculum committee. “We’re seeing the benefits in the testing results.”

Vasquez said about 140 students out of the 230 spring graduates have taken the NCLEX for the first time and passed with scores in the 90s. The complete final results have not yet been determined.

The nursing school is also undergoing curriculum changes to include courses that build on each other and take advantage of the 17 new simulation laboratories made with state-of-the-art technology, Vasquez said.

Susana Barroso, a full-time professor for the last two years, experienced the “loud, crowded” and confusing medical simulations in the old nursing building located on Red Road.

“We would run simulations in one room doing three at a time,” said Barroso, who is the assistant director of simulation. “The size of the room was of one lab here. You want to have controlled chaos if you want to simulate a hospital environment.”

The new simulation rooms can be programmed by the instructor to include stressful environment conditions, such as incessant phone ringing. Professors can also alter the state of the mannequin patients by changing the heart rate.

Barroso said she has a cookbook with recipes indicating which materials are used for what sorts of conditions. For example, she uses K-Y jelly to simulate snot.

Students in the nursing program believe the current learning conditions are more suitable to academic success.

“We can make mistakes here and learn from them,” said Beena Vells, a Master’s student and graduate assistant. “There’s no better way to learn on a first round.”

Steven Brock, a Master’s student and graduate assistant who received his bachelor’s degree in nursing from UM, said the School of Nursing has also improved the status of faculty by hiring an “elite” level of experts. The school recently hired eight new full-time faculty members to replace part-time professors.

“The university has brought in faculty and staff that are known all over the country,” Brock said.

The nursing school has also acknowledged a cheating problem and has installed cameras in the classrooms to survey the area during in-class testing.

Laurie Reinhardt-Plotnik, the nursing school’s director of development, said cheating is a common problem in schools across the nation but matters more in an area where a student’s lack of knowledge may cause serious damage in the actual workforce.

“When the stakes are high, the motivation is there to measure up,” Plotnik said.

The School of Nursing has also received grants to go toward research, aimed at addressing Hispanic health issues. See page 2 for more information.

Walyce Almeida may be contacted at