In the historic halls of the University of West Alabama, Dr. Mary Hanks has become synonymous with transformative change in nursing education. As the Chair of Nursing at UWA since 2017, her journey from a dedicated bedside nurse to a visionary educator is not just a career trajectory but a personal mission. Dr. Hanks, driven by a desire to uplift and empower, has consistently sought to meet her students where they are, offering not just education but mentorship, support, and a pathway to a rewarding career. Her story is one of resilience, empathy, and an unwavering belief in the potential of every student.
The Desire to Close the Equity Gap
At UWA, Dr. Hanks confronted a critical issue: her nursing students, primarily from economically disadvantaged and minority backgrounds, were grappling with low NCLEX® pass rates. The obstacles were multifaceted — from the complexities of managing home responsibilities to the absence of fundamental study and note-taking skills often taken for granted by their more privileged peers. These first-generation college students were navigating unfamiliar terrain, and traditional test prep resources had fallen short. Having tried other test prep tools without satisfactory results, Dr. Hanks realized the need for a solution that mirrored the actual NCLEX and helped students develop the study skills necessary to pass it.
Inspired by the unity and success portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures,” Dr. Hanks sought to radically alter her nursing program’s trajectory. Her mission extended beyond merely improving exam scores; she aspired to instigate a sweeping movement of empowerment and equity. Her advocacy for cultural competence underscored her approach, emphasizing the need to understand each student’s unique circumstances and provide a quality NCLEX resource that could genuinely bridge the gap to their success.
An Innovative Solution
Dr. Hanks’ approach was certainly unique, but it revolutionized nursing education at UWA. With her faculty’s innovative flipped classroom approach, students engaged with real-life case studies without first sitting through a lecture, developing the critical thinking skills essential for nursing. This method encouraged them to apply theoretical knowledge practically, preparing them for the unpredictable nature of healthcare. Additionally, if a student’s grade dropped below 80, they were assigned a retention specialist to work closely with them to help them get back on track.
One of the most substantial aspects of Dr. Hanks’ teams’ educational strategy, however, was assigning UWorld NCLEX QBank questions. A former student implied that the questions were similar to the ones on the actual NCLEX, and Dr. Hanks knew the answer explanations were better than any she’d seen from other resources.
And so, she mandated that every student answer 2,000 UWorld questions, aiming for a minimum 65% success rate. Her mandate was that every time a student missed a question, they would complete the requirement to read through the answer explanation, write it down, and try again.
Cultural Competence and Empowered Students
Dr. Hanks’ rigorous strategy transformed students from uncertain test-takers into confident, critical thinkers. She understood that a commitment to giving her students what they needed, especially as first-generation college attendees at UWA, would break cycles of inequity and set a precedent for future generations.
Under Dr. Hanks’ leadership, UWA has seen remarkable improvements in NCLEX pass rates, transforming from the previous lows in 2017 into a gateway for student opportunities. Her leadership has fostered a profound shift in learning, cultivating confidence and competence in her students. Furthermore, UWorld remains a critical resource in supporting Dr. Hanks’ mission.
“The question is, are we going to meet people where they are and accept where they are?…To be culturally competent means I have to be sensitive to the needs of the other person.”
~Dr. Mary Hanks
Continuing to Support Equity
For Dr. Hanks, UWorld transcends being merely an NCLEX QBank prep tool; it embodies a larger narrative of empowerment and success. “Aiding equity is what it is all about,” she commented, emphasizing its role in leveling the playing field.
“Aiding equity is what it is all about.” ~ Dr. Mary Hanks
Her advocacy for UWorld stems from witnessing its transformative effects on students’ exam scores, confidence, critical thinking, and clinical judgment. As the NCLEX evolves, Dr. Hanks’ trust in UWorld’s adaptability is unwavering. She believes it will continue to be an invaluable resource, aiding students in passing exams and fostering a sense of empowered equity.