Nursing Program

Kelley Thunberg, lab coordinator, left, Anne Schuchmann, associate professor, Teneal Gustafson, associate professor and Mary Capen, associate professor, post with two high-fidelity simulattion mannequins used by Centralia College's nursing program.

As Centralia College was learning to teach its students in the midst of a pandemic last spring, you might expect students here and there to drop out, take a break or put their studies on the back burner.

Not its nursing students. 

“Even with all of the craziness that happened in March and near the end of the graduating year of 2020 … we didn’t lose a single student,” said Ellen Hinderlie, MSN, BSN, RN and director of Centralia College’s nursing program. Furthermore, all of the program’s first-year students progressed to their second year on time. 

Centralia College’s nursing program’s ability to retain and graduate students on time is one of the reasons that, for the second year in a row, the Nursing School Almanac’s 2020 rankings named Centralia College the No. 2 nursing program in the state at two-year-colleges and 14th overall. Rankings are based on the college’s “academic prestige and perceived value, breadth and depth of nursing programs offered, and student success, particularly on the NCLEX licensure exam,” according to Centralia College and the almanac. The organization evaluated more than 3,000 nursing programs across the country and included less than 35 percent of schools in its 2020 rankings.

“It is a huge honor, amid all of the excellent nursing programs in the state of Washington and across the nation … and for it to be two years in a row is just quite an impressive feat and speaks to the excellence that we have expectations for,” Hinderlie said

“Everyone plays a part in that success,” she said, from the faculty to the students, to community partners where they get clinical experience, to the Centralia College Foundation and donors who allow the college to invest in high-tech simulators to train their future nurses. 

The honor is particularly meaningful as the program has persevered during a pandemic, Hinderlie said. 

“It really speaks to not just the level of excellence of the faculty and students and our community partners, but also their resilience and flexibility and their willingness to do what it takes to get the job done, and not just to get it done in a mediocre fashion but with a level of excellence,” Hinderlie said.

In the past decade, Centralia College graduate nurses have averaged an 87-percent NCLEX pass rate on their first attempt. According to the college, the past two graduating classes have scored 92 and 95 percent. The test is what licenses nurses as registered nurses. 

“It’s not an easy exam to take,” Hinderlie said. “Its definitely the hardest exam of a nurse’s career.”

Centralia College is in good company on the list of the Nursing Schools Almanac’s top 25 nursing schools in the state. Bellevue College was the top ranked two-year nursing program, ranking 13th overall, just above CC. The University of Washington and Washington State University were the top two nursing schools overall, with Seattle University, Gonzaga and Pacific Lutheran University rounding out the top five.

Centralia College offers an associate of applied science-transfer degree that prepares students to take the NCLEX licensure exam to become a registered nurse. The program combines theoretical work in the classroom with clinical experience, primarily at clinics in Centralia and Chehalis.

Many of the program’s graduates have jobs lined up long before they graduate. Hinderlie said it’s because the program turns out well-prepared nurses. 

“I think they are some of the most prepared … young entrants to practice of their peer group,” she said. 

Hinderlie gave credit to the Centralia College Foundation and its director, Christine Fossett, for helping secure funding for the equipment that faculty uses to train its future nurses. Recently, a donor gave enough for two state-of-the-art high-fidelity simulator mannequins, used to train nurses to react in real-time to medical situations. The simulators can be programmed for very specific circumstances, Hinderlie said, aiding visual and hands-on learners — who make up most of their students. 

New classes begin each fall, with applications opening for the 2021 program in January. Each group, or cohort, is capped at 24 students. 

Hinderlie stressed that RNs are in extraordinarily high demand, especially since the pandemic began. She said an interested applicant shouldn’t be discouraged by the cost of a degree. 

“There’s a lot of scholarship money and funding available for those people who want to become nurses, but they’re concerned about their finances especially now,” Hinderlie said. “There’s a lot of foundation funding for scholarships out there. Don’t let that be the reason it holds somebody back from pursuing their dream.”

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