Fayetteville State University nurses program back to health

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The lab on the third floor of Fayetteville State University's nursing building works like several wings in a hospital. (WTVD)

The lab on the third floor of Fayetteville State University's nursing building works like several wings in a hospital.

Patients with contusions, bruises, breathing, and eating problems are cared for by FSU students. Some of the patients even talk. No one calls the patient a dummy. On the third floor, each has a name.
However, the nursing program at FSU hasn't always been this high tech, or functional.

"It's a new day," said Dr. Afua Arhin, the department chair for the program. "It's definitely a new day. It's a good day.

Arhin was tapped to join the faculty after the nursing program was essentially shut down by Chancellor James Anderson. In 2009, students were not passing the National Council Licensure Examination, known as NCLEX. The students were unable to practice in the field.

"I love a challenge," Arhin said. "Somebody from North Carolina called and said there's a challenge and are you willing to attack that challenge in Fayetteville."

Arhin came to Fayetteville from Grambling State University where she'd overhauled a nursing program as well. At FSU, Arhin found the remnants of a lot of inexperience.

"They had a young faculty and they tried to grow really fast," she said. "And that's not very good ingredients. It was a perfect storm."

The forecast took a turn when Arhin began with a clean slate. With the exception of one faculty member, the program had essentially been gutted.

"We retooled everything," said Arhin, "starting from faculty, curriculum, philosophy, the building. So it was like a brand new program."

One of those faculty members was Dr. Peg Trueman, who worked in the state community college system for nearly 20 years. She helped revamp curriculum and was drawn to the challenge during the interview process where transparency was the name of the game.

The program began to work because it was "drama-free," said Arhin. Trueman said the faculty hit it off.

"We like each other," Trueman said. "We can tease each other and we work hard, and most importantly, we can have disagreements."

An A-plus grade

By 2011, a new curriculum had been approved by the state Board of Nursing. FSU began accepting new students in January 2013.

They could not fail.

"They often said 'We're the guinea pigs,' but I said you're going to set the benchmark, and they took that and ran with it," said Trueman.

Fast forward to December and all 15 students completing their bachelor's degrees passed the NCLEX, making FSU the second university in the state to have a 100 percent pass rate in 2014. Western Carolina University shared the distinction.

So where do you go from perfect?

"It puts a lot of pressure on us as first years to keep it up, yes," said Erica Wiggins, who transferred to FSU from Miller-Motte College. "I have faith in me and my classmates."

"To us, it's a little scary. To the next cohort, it's a little terrifying and we recognize that because they're like 'we don't want to be the class that doesn't get 100," said Trueman, "but it motivates everybody."

"My goal is to have probably one of the best nursing programs here in the state," said Arhin.

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