INVESTIGATES: Florida nursing students are failing state exam required to enter the workforce

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Recruiting and retaining nurses throughout the state has become more difficult. Action News Jax Investigates found part of the problem is Florida’s pass rates for the state exam are below the national average.


Graduates need to pass the exam to enter the workforce. Action News Jax Alexus Cleavenger found out why nursing students are failing the state exam.

Cleavenger spoke with a local nurse, Kelsy Lonabaugh. She started her journey in nursing school at Jacksonville University.

“I was 18 when I started nursing school, and I didn’t have that college experience. So, I had to grow up quickly,” said Lonabaugh.

[DOWNLOAD: Free Action News Jax app for alerts as news breaks]

After graduating from nursing school in 2021, the next step to start her career was passing the NCLEX.

“It’s just a lot of pressure,” said Lonabaugh. “I thought I failed.”

Read: Cox Media Group and KFF Health News named finalist for prestigious Pulitzer Prize in Public Service

While she did pass her NCLEX on the first try, that is not the case for everyone.

“One of my best friends failed, and she had to take it twice. Even some nurses that I work with [had to take it more than once]. One nurse had to take it 5 times,” said Lonabaugh.

Each time you take the test, it costs $200.

Read: INVESTIGATES: Controversial police training banned in nine states is now welcome in Florida

Action News Jax Investigates pulled the data from the Florida Center for Nursing, and it shows the State’s NCLEX pass rates were below the national pass rates last year.

In Florida, about 76% of test-takers passed the test to become registered nurses, while the national average is higher at 88%. In addition, 74% passed the test to be a practical nurse, while nationally it’s 86%.

These failing rates are a trend that the Florida Center for Nursing has seen for more than a decade now.

“I’m worried that we aren’t going to meet the healthcare needs of the people and the visitors of Florida,” said Rayna Letourneau, the Florida Center for Nursing executive director.

Read: Family files lawsuit against Columbia County Sheriff’s Office after inmate dies in custody

It’s part of a much larger problem.

“We have a nursing shortage right now,” said Letourneau. “If we have more nursing students, we are not solving the shortage unless they are able to pass the NCLEX and earn their license.”

Letourneau said the pass rates have to do with program accreditation.

“In Florida, we do have high-performing programs that have pass rates at or above the national average, but we also have many newer programs that are not yet accredited,” said Letourneau.

[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]

In the state, there are a total of 325 nursing programs, but only about half are accredited. Also, private for-profit institutions had lower NCLEX-RN pass rates than private nonprofit and public institutions from 2020 to 2022.

Letourneau said it’s crucial to better prepare future nurses to enter the workforce promptly.

“I think there are opportunities to really identify programs that are above the national average, and what practices are they implementing to help student success. Then, we can look at those best practices and scale them to other programs throughout our state,” said Letourneau.

Read: INVESTIGATES: Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous shuttle challenges

As for Kelsy, who’s been a licensed nurse for about 2 years now, she said the job is tough but so rewarding.

“I love being able to make a difference in other people’s lives,” said Lonabaugh.

Read: ‘It’s unsettling:’ University Park home abandoned for years racks up $350K in fines

Click here to download the free Action News Jax news and weather apps, click here to download the Action News Jax Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Action News Jax live.

Comments on this article