By Christine Sproles, MSN, RN, Assistant Dean of Nursing and Nursing Instructor, Fortis Institute, Pensacola, Florida
Identifying a need
Student retention is often a concern for those working in career education programs. Finding new and effective ways to improve student retention can appear daunting – especially when it seems you have tried everything from tutoring sessions to required meetings with academic coaches, weekly staff meetings to discuss student success and attendance, having faculty reach out to any and all students who show a need, whether that be lack of attendance, poor performance in evaluations, or just not being engaged in the classroom. What do you do when it seems none of these strategies are really working, or at least not working consistently?
Dr. Lisa Carwie, the Dean of Nursing at our institution, came up with a new and innovative concept called “Lunch and Learn.”
Lunch and Learn was developed as a method of improving retention and student satisfaction in our nursing program; but it could be implemented in any type of educational setting.
The needs of the various student population could be identified and then topics presented to help meet those needs.
Our students typically take several general education courses prior to starting the actual NUR (nursing) courses. The first nursing course they take is Health Assessment. When students move into that class from the general education courses, they have a tendency to sort of “freak out” about being in “nursing.” They don’t know what to expect. They don’t know the nursing faculty. They’re concerned about being successful in the classes that required critical thinking and higher level test questions, etc. We have seen “A” students get so full of anxiety about what lies ahead for them that they actually have considered withdrawing from the program! When questioned, it appears that most of their anxiety is just over the unknown of “what lies ahead for me in nursing?” We knew that something had to be done to correct this – or at least reduce the anxiety and apprehension of our nursing students that seemed to “paralyze” them. That is when our Dean of Nursing came up with the Lunch and Learn concept.
How does it work?
The Lunch and Learn is something we developed to help meet all of those needs mentioned before – reducing the anxiety, helping the students get acclimated to the culture of nursing, introduce students to the other faculty members, provide strategies for success, and so on. The Health Assessment class has both a didactic/lecture portion and a skills laboratory portion. We provide a 45-minute break between the two sessions. The students may leave campus or stay. This is totally an optional activity. We allow the students to bring their lunch to the meeting (thus, lunch and learn). The faculty presentations take place in the classroom, so the students are not leaving to go someplace else for this meeting. We have a student break room for those who want to leave and go eat or take a break elsewhere. They are not required to stay, and they are in no way penalized for leaving. However, the majority of the students have been staying for the Lunch and Learn presentations.
In advance, the faculty come together and discuss topics that we feel should be covered, based upon comments received from the students. We talk about how to be successful in the nursing program (or any program). We discuss test taking strategies. We discuss how to use their resources effectively. One of the earlier topics presented is the culture of nursing, presented by the Dean. We also have a presentation on making good choices for academic success and managing stress. Another well received topic is on how to use their resources. The clinical coordinator speaks to the students about things to know and do before going to clinical. Again, we decide on the topics at the start of the term, and we do this once a week or every other week. Different faculty members come in and speak on different topics. Another example is that we require our nursing students to pass a dosage calculations quiz on the first day of their courses that have a clinical component. They must pass this quiz with a 100 percent to be able to go to clinical. As the Pharmacology instructor, I go into the Health Assessment classroom for Lunch and Learn towards the end of their term and give them handouts, helps, etc., on how to be successful with that required math quiz (we call that Math for Success, another one of our innovative programs for student success).
One of the things that our students have told us is that they feel they don’t know the nursing faculty, and that is intimidating to them when they are completing their skills in their Health Assessment class. This is when nursing faculty from the department come in and check them off on their skills. They have never seen the faculty before – or certainly never met them. This causes some anxiety for the students when performing their skills check-offs – which, by the way, are required to pass the course.
The Lunch and Learn provides an opportunity for the various nursing faculty to come in and speak with the students in a very nonthreatening environment.
The students have responded very positively to this interaction and have become more engaged with the faculty as a whole. We allow the students to ask questions about basically anything. This, too, calms their fears because they are getting answers now, rather than waiting until the time they are confronted with a particular course and a particular instructor. The interactions are more conversational and less instructional, so to speak.
Last term was the first term that we implemented the Lunch and Learn. The feedback from the students was phenomenal! They loved it! They not only gained new information on how to be successful while in nursing school, but they met new nursing faculty in a “safe and comfortable” environment. They weren’t in class, they weren’t in clinical or skills lab, they weren’t being tested, etc. It was just faculty providing helpful and useful information to the students while they enjoyed their lunch. Not only did we get great feedback from the students, but our retention in that one course went from 73 percent the previous term to 88 percent after the launching of Lunch and Learn” As I said, this is a new endeavor, but it has been a success! We are making changes and additions to our topics this term based upon student feedback. We have added a meeting where the academic coaches come and speak with the students on studying and test taking strategies. The students love it!
This is only the second term of implementing this new retention strategy, but already we are seeing very positive feedback. Almost all of the students stay for this voluntary meeting and participate with questions and discussion. Another benefit of the Lunch and Learn is that students who normally are very quiet and don’t usually engage in class discussions or openly ask questions are becoming more vocal and engaging with their peers and the faculty who come and present at the Lunch and Learn. We find this extremely beneficial to the students, as part of being successful in any program is engaging in your own learning process.
These students are starting to see the importance of their engagement and are developing in their ability to ask questions and be involved in group discussions.
We are excited to see how this program will affect retention this term, but are anticipating similar results to our first endeavor, as the students are “talking it up.” Hopefully this is something that other programs can find useful – or at least spark some creative thinking on other ways to improve student retention and satisfaction.
CHRISTINE SPROLES is the Assistant Dean of nursing and a nursing instructor at Fortis Institute in Pensacola, Florida. She has been an educator for more than 30 years, teaching courses in medical office administration and nursing.
During her time at Fortis, Christine has developed a means to motivate her students and increase morale along with a Math for Success program to help students progress in math skills throughout their program. Realizing a need to improve performance in her pharmacology course, she performed a gap analysis using HESI specialty exams to identify content areas where students scored low and executed a plan to boost student outcomes. The results were positive with mean scores and student satisfaction increasing significantly.
Christine is an active faculty member at Fortis Institute performing functions such as assisting faculty members with lesson objective development using appropriate cognitive levels and serving on a subcommittee to revise clinical skills requirements. She is chairperson for the Evaluation and Outcomes Committee for the nursing program at Fortis.
Recognized for her commitment to nursing education, she received the Five-Star Faculty award from Fortis Institute in 2014 and the Outstanding Teacher Award from Pensacola Christian College in 2002. Christine received the 2015 Master Teacher Award at the 12th Annual National Conference on Allied Health Education by ABHES and Elsevier.
Christine has been a break-out session speaker at several nursing and allied health conferences nationally, speaking on topics related to student success. She also serves as a reviewer for textbooks, such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Davis.
She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida. She furthered her education and received a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon.
Contact Information: Christine Sproles, MSN, RN // Assistant Dean of Nursing and Nursing Instructor // Fortis Institute //4081 E. Olive Road, Suite B, Pensacola, FL 32514 // 850-476-7607 // CSproles@fortisinstitute.edu