Too early to judge licensing test results for Canadian nurses: regulatory group

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HALIFAX — It’s too soon to know what lower pass rates might say about a new U.S.-based licensing test for Canadian nurses, but they don’t mean it’s too Americanized, says the national group that oversees the exam.

The president of the Canadian Council of Registered Nurse Regulators said figures released earlier this month for the National Council Licensure Examination are for the first half of 2015.

But Anne Coghlan said critics are measuring those numbers against the annual results for a previous written test for nursing graduates that was administered by the Canadian Nurses Association.

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“I think it’s very important to stress this is preliminary data,” said Coghlan. “This data represents the first six months of the year and in some jurisdictions it represents a small number of writers.”

The national pass rate from January to June stands at 70.6 per cent, with six of 10 provinces and territories registering pass rates below the national average. The figures do not include Quebec and Yukon, whose graduates do not write the test.

The U.S. pass rate for the test in the same period is higher at 78.3 per cent, prompting some to question its validity in measuring the competency of Canadian registered nursing graduates. Figures for the previous test show the national pass rate was 86 per cent in 2014 and 81 per cent in 2013.

Kirsten Woodend, president of the Canadian Association of Nursing Schools, believes the test is the wrong exam for Canadians, saying there is a “huge mismatch” when the American-based test plan is compared to existing entry requirements for competency in Canada.

Woodend worries that Canadian nursing programs will teach to the test, instead of concentrating on training nurses who enter a very different health system than in the U.S.

“We can train them (graduates) to death and get them to have higher pass rates, but I think the implications are much larger because of these mismatches,” said Woodend.

But Coghlan defends the new test, saying it measures the applicants’ ability to perform safely in critical areas, such as conducting patient assessments, performing the calculations required to administer medication and in ensuring they understand how to protect client and patient privacy and confidentiality.


“It’s not American content and it’s not Canadian content,” she said. “It is nursing content and that is not different between Canada and the United States.”

Coghlan also said a trend is developing that suggests Canadian writers are passing the exam on their second attempt at a higher rate than American graduates, although hard data isn’t available yet.

The variability in pass rates across the country is something that will be examined once a full year of statistics is available for in-depth analysis, she said.

Kathleen Valentine, the dean of nursing at the University of New Brunswick, is also taking a cautious approach to her province’s pass rate, which at only 54.3 per cent is the lowest in the country.

Valentine doesn’t believe the results are reflective of the quality of the school’s program and adds the statistics can change rapidly in a smaller province as more people take the test.


The test represents a change and there will be an opportunity to address the potential implications for schools across Canada once more information is available, she said.

“What needs to be done … needs to be thoughtful and not reactive,” said Valentine.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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