Nurses are in great demand across the United States but those who know both Spanish and English are in particularly short supply. This study examined the Spanish-English Nursing Education (SENE) program, which was created in 2003 to address the shortage of bilingual nurses, both practical (LPNs) and registered (RNs). Methodology employed for this research was a utilization-focused evaluation, which draws on stakeholder input and stresses the actual use of study results for program improvement.
A mixed method approach was used to gather the most useful and appropriate quantitative and qualitative data. Methods of data collection included the review of institutional data and documents, student surveys, and interviews of SENE faculty, staff, and students. Data was triangulated from these varied sources and member checks were used to increase the validity of findings. An open coding format aided the analysis of qualitative data while logistic regression was used to analyze quantitative data.
A key question explored by this study was whether student academic backgrounds and cultural heritage related to success within the program, as measured by program persistence and performance on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX nursing exam). Other questions included determining the role of interpersonal support systems, instructional techniques, and finances on student success. The goals of the SENE program and their relationship to admission policies were also assessed.
The major goal of the SENE program was to produce bilingual nurses (RNs and LPNs) in a supportive educational environment, but a secondary goal was to allow early exiting students to work as nursing assistants (CNAs). To help reach program goals, applicants were required to be fluent in Spanish and English, show college level competencies in English, reading, and mathematics, and be legally capable of working in the United States. Unlike many nursing programs, entrance requirements did not include a minimal GPA or previous course completions.
The study found that incoming students with relatively high GPAs were significantly more likely to persist through all of SENE and pass the NCLEX-Registered Nursing exam (p < .05). Previous science classes were related to student persistence through the second year of the program, when students graduated as LPNs. Students could speak Spanish as needed in SENE and felt supported by a cohesive cohort of Hispanic classmates. Students noted that Spanish language skills and Hispanic cultural understanding were more important for nursing work, rather than program success.
Family members, especially spouses, played an essential role in personally and financially supporting SENE students. Most students also needed scholarships, financial aid, and tuition assistance programs to finance SENE. Cohort members, especially members of study groups and friends, helped students learn material and stay motivated, aided by the students' own drive. In contrast to previous studies of Hispanic college programs, students preferred interactive PowerPoint lectures over group work for classroom instruction.
The SENE program exceeded expectations in terms of producing bilingual RNs, LPNs, and CNAs, with over 90% of those in cohorts 1-3 able to work as bilingual nurses or CNAs. Although a relatively small program (30-50 students per cohort), over 60 bilingual RNs were licensed to practice by Spring of 2007. The findings of this study may assist the SENE program in better understanding and strengthening its performance. This detailed evaluation of a bilingual nursing program may also aid other secondary institutions with Hispanic populations, especially those directed toward nursing.