The first class of nursing students based at the Concord campus, which features a lab with high tech mannequins, above, distinguished themselves with a 100 percent pass rate on the state nursing exam. (Photo: Jesse Cantley)
Breezy Guerrero is used to intense situations after serving four years active duty in the U.S. Air Force. Passing the state nursing board examination on the first try was no different.
Guerrero, 31, wife, mom and active reservist, added nurse to her list of accomplishments at the June 13 commencement ceremony at the Concord Campus. She and 36 of her nursing classmates from the Concord campus achieved a 100 percent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) State Board Exam the first time they took it.
"We're proud that the first class at Concord received a 100 percent pass rate on the NCLEX exam” said Carolyn Fong, Nursing Department Chair.
Cal State East Bay’s nursing program is one of the largest public university programs in the state, with approximately 130 new nursing graduates each year. By expanding to the Concord Campus in 2006, CSU East Bay became the only public university to offer a bachelor of science nursing in Contra Costa County.
“Many hospitals were very appreciative when CSU East Bay expanded to Concord," Fong said. "John Muir Health gave a $1.7 million grant to start the program, Kaiser Permanente donated funds for two instructors and Alta Bates Summit salaried five nursing instructors from their RN staff. So the program couldn't exist without the support from the healthcare community."
Creating a nursing program that met the specific needs of Contra Costa County with the same quality and caliber of the existing program in Hayward presented challenges.
“We had to work the bugs out,” Fong said. “I had new construction, faculty commuting back and forth from Hayward to teach, and several little things to work out.”
Expectations were high for the new class of students as Fong challenged the Concord students to do exceptionally well, meet and exceed the accomplishments of their Hayward counterparts and set a new standard for the program.
The first year nursing students met the challenge. They organized a chapter of the East Bay Student Nurses Association (EBSNA), one of the first student clubs at Concord, and committed to studying intensely, on one occasion for 32 hours without a break.
“Studying was brutal,” Guerrero said. “It wasn’t easy, but we had something to prove as the first class from Concord.”
But they didn’t spend all their time studying. Through the EBSNA, Concord nursing students advocated for programs and became a strong voice for students on campus. The club also hosted campus-wide training, blood drives and socials.
“We became a family, had a lot of fun and even took vacations together,” said Guerrero, as she flipped through a scrapbook she created to document her time at Cal State East Bay. “Our class was close.”
“Each class has its own personality,” said Sandra Jong, nursing staff assistant. “Some are really close and stick together, and some are very competitive with each other.”
Guerrero has been hired as a newborn intensive care unit nurse at Sutter Delta Hospital in Antioch. She advises new students: “Get every pre-requisite course they can while completing their lower division coursework; it saves you from taking extra classes.”
CSUEB offers a BSN degree and an RN to BSN degree for nurses interested in returning to complete their education. Students are taught by nurses from several area hospitals. Each student receives theoretical training and hands on practice in Cal State East Bay’s skills and simulation labs set up to mirror a hospital room.
The simulation lab at Cal State East Bay features a mannequin capable of mimicking actions of a human patient, including speaking, movement and exhibiting signs of extreme distress. The technology allows students to practice real life scenarios before starting their nursing careers.
The hands-on training is an important distinction for CSUEB graduates, employers report. Experienced nurses from John Muir Health Center, for example, have observed that Cal State East Bay-trained nurses experience situations during college that may take years to obtain through on the job training.
Since CSUEB’s nursing program accepts only 180 students from over 900 applications annually, the competition for a student to be accepted is tough.
“We expect a lot from our students, so getting into the program is only the beginning,” Fong said. “The nursing program is intense. Students must have a passion for nursing, so they should talk with nurses and other students to see if this is something they really want, then, be committed to doing it well."