Campus & Community

Nursing Program to Go Half Online — Not Everyone Is Happy

Metro nursing student Jeffry Camacho (left) joins classmates Gabriella Cruz and Ashley Tombe, who started a petition to protest changes in the Metro Nursing program. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Tombe)

By Giselle Mendez

Special Correspondent

It began as a rumor:  FDU’s nursing program at Metro would be fully online next semester.

Fears of a replay of teaching styles experienced during the height of the COVID pandemic sparked anxiety for many nursing students. Junior nursing students Ashley Tombe, of Weehawken, and Gabriella Cruz, of Bayonne, asked, how would they get any practical hands-on experience if learning was conducted through a screen? 

In late October, Tombe started a petition on Change.org expressing strong feelings of disapproval. It quickly gained well over 1,000 signatures. The preoccupation about possible online nursing classes among nursing majors was almost immediate. 

The in-person teaching style of the program will turn into a half-remote, half-in-person program with students having the option of an entirely in-person experience — if they travel to the Florham campus, the students told The Equinox.

For some, this is not an easy choice. Those without a car would have to rely on public transportation. The commute from Metro to Florham is roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes by public transportation or 40 minutes by car, according to Google Maps. 

The Equinox talked with the nursing students who explained why they started the petition and described their conversation with Dr. Annie Rohan, dean of the Henry B. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health, who helped roll out the changes. 

Q: What propelled you to start a petition?

Tombe: As nursing students, we always learn to be advocates for our patients. That’s basically being a voice for your patient when they’re sick. We decided that we need to be a voice for ourselves, too, especially when we first started hearing rumors from students that the nursing program was going to be changed to online. Going from in-person to online, we thought, oh my God, this is going to be just like COVID, and that was a terrible, terrible time — mentally, physically. So we [said] we need to start a petition, we need to get signatures. …  We have to get the rest of our class on board, as many people [as possible] on board. 

Q: Has it been confirmed by somebody in authority that the nursing program would be fully online? 

Tombe: Yes, so now that I have met with a person with authority [Dean Rohan], the changes aren’t that it’s going to be completely online. It’s basically that our lectures are going to be recorded as videos, and they’ll be uploaded on Blackboard, so we will always be able to watch those videos, repeat the videos, etc. … So we will be there and do case studies, examples, ask questions, etc. Instead of us going to class and sitting there for three hours for lecture, we’re going to watch those videos on our own and then go to class, which is going to be optional now.

Q: So now each student has his or her free will as to whether to study the material beforehand. How will this affect not only you but your peers overall?

Tombe: We have some peers that are moms, and they’re trying to get their bachelor’s degree. Will they be able to focus on the kids? That’s why we pay to come to school, to have that time to focus and be able to ask questions on the spot. I’m more of an in-person type of person, but me having to go to Florham?

Cruz: We don’t have to [go to Florham]. It’s like we have our videos on Blackboard, and when it’s time to go to the classroom, one week it’ll be here, then we get to go to the classroom. When it’s at Florham, we’ll do that through Zoom.

Q: What did the dean say about the changes? And how will this affect the nursing professors? 

Tombe: She was very, very kind, and she did provide the information that we needed, the accurate information. And she explained how the program cannot be fully online because our general courses — like math, writing, all that — will always be in person. So that was definitely a relief. And she did explain about the whole video being uploaded and how this is basically going to be more work for the staff. 

It’s more work for the staff, which can be a little frustrating, and I understand that perspective as well. It’s already so overwhelming having to teach so many students all this content information. So now imagine having to take videos and, you know, upload them. 

We’re very empathetic. From the student perspective, I now get how it will be more beneficial than harmful to our academic performance. I feel like now it’s OK, it will be manageable. Maybe it will be better. We’ll see how we like the changes because we’ve never done it before. They should have started this our senior year. Not in the middle. Maybe the timing was really bad. … Instead of starting next semester, maybe start next year. 

The hardest courses in nursing school, pediatrics and obs, is when you’re taking care of the mother and the baby. Having this change during these very intense courses, how will the adjustment go?

Q: What will the commute to Florham look like for you two since you live on the Metro campus?

Cruz:  I don’t have a car.

Tombe: I don’t either. We could [go to Florham], but, that would be on us. Transportation’s not going be provided, none of that. 

If we can’t go to Florham, we can get on Zoom from here. Do you have a car and are you going to carpool? How are you going to get there?

Cruz: So, maybe a week before, two days before a lecture, [the school] should say which students want to do in-person and provide transportation to Florham.

Even if it’s just one person, it’s more convenient because that’s what we’re paying for. This is our investment and making sure that we get every single resource to make sure that we are investing it properly is important. 

Q: Can you explain the importance of the NCLEX-RN, and the 100% pass rate that this school has a reputation for? 

Tombe: After nursing school, you get a degree in science and nursing, but you’re not a nurse. In order to become a registered nurse, you have to pass a state exam. That’s the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination).

You take questions until it shuts off, and it’s about six hours long. So when you pass that, you’ll get your results in about two weeks or so. If it says pass, then you have your license and now you’re a nurse.

So this school, according to the website, has a 100% NCLEX pass rate. That means that all students pass their state exam, and they all become nurses. Yeah, right. I got information that apparently it hasn’t been updated. So even though we have a very, very, very high NCLEX pass rate, it’s not 100%.

And that’s what we deal with here, too. Because we have the nursing program here at Metro, and we have one at Florham. The NCLEX pass rates aren’t equal. They’re uneven, right? So, with these changes that we’re seeing with the whole videos and all that stuff, one of the main reasons that we’re doing it, too, is so that both schools get the same content, get the same information, get the same tests, and that way we can even out the NCLEX pass rates, right?

Now they’re uneven. One’s higher than the other. So that’s not good. One class is passing all their students … very, very great. The other school is, like, what’s going on? So one of the biggest things that are driving these changes is that unevenness, and the school wants to even that out.

So they want fairness for everyone. I understand that part. And it’s also because, starting in August, there was a new NCLEX. So this is where I feel like that comes to play. Now it’s more select, all the applied questions. Before there used to be like, what, five?

Now it’s going to be eight to 10. You have to choose which one’s right. And I feel like that also came to play as well. And [Dr. Rohan] said it’s evening out the bar, but this is important because it’s better to pass on the first try straight out of graduating because all the information is retained.

But if you have a school with a low NCLEX passing rate, you have to [re-]take your boards. What’s the maximum? The max may be four. I have no clue. Taking the board more than twice is essentially not a good sign either. And that’s what we prep for. All of our tests are NCLEX questions. We’re trying to make sure that once we’re in the seating there, senior year, we’re ready to go. 

Q: Why would a non-STEM major student care about your program going online?

Cruz: Advocate for your education. The majority of our class are first-generation students, sometimes we think that we have to take whatever’s given to us, but if we want more, we deserve more because we worked our butts off to get to where we are today.

STEM is not easy, all of the majors are hard, but you worked hard to get here. Advocate for yourself because if you’re not able to do that, how are you going to be in the working world taking crap from your boss or whoever’s your superior? That’s what I think this teaches us. 

Tombe: I’ve learned a lot from this experience. I’ve learned that leadership takes being a voice for yourself and doesn’t mean you have to stay quiet.

We started this petition, and we got over 1,200 signatures, we got a lot of support, and I was able to meet with the dean. Your voice means something. So use it, don’t be afraid. A lot of us are first-generation students, so we never had that role model growing up and going to college. We had role models that worked hard, they were diligent, and they went to work all day, every day.

Working together is important because we all did this together. It’s not just one person, it’s more than a thousand signatures, this is a whole support system. It’s very important to stick together and fight for what you believe in.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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Junior nursing students have a tight camaraderie on the Metro campus. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Tombe)