Graduates of the Frederick Community College nursing program are passing their National Council Licensure Exams at rates higher than the national average.

The NCLEX is an exam that all nursing students must pass to become a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. The 21 FCC graduates who took the NCLEX to become an LPN all passed the exam for a 100 percent passing rate.

The passing rate for other schools of practical nursing in Maryland was 95.26 percent, while the national passing rate was 86.41 percent.

Of the 72 FCC graduates testing to become an RN, 68 passed, giving the college a passing rate of 94.44 percent. Other colleges in the state of Maryland had a passing rate of 89.19 percent. The national passing rate was 88.8 percent.

"Our curriculum has been tried-and-true for a long time," said Jane Garvin, director of nursing education at FCC. "It is very rigorous. It is based on helping the students learn how to critically think, which is what you need for anything in the medical field."

Each year the college admits 54 nursing students in the fall and 32 in the spring as part of its RN program. For the LPN program, FCC admits 10 students. Admission into the program isn't easy. Each semester, the program has about three times the number of applicants it has room to accept.

"They (the students) are very focused, they're goal-oriented, they have blinders on," Garvin said. "They don't come to college to be having a good time. They come to college to get this degree."

Students in the nursing program range from those right out of high school to those in their 60s.

Frederick resident Becki Simmons grew up wanting to be a nurse and after a marriage and two children, she is in her first semester in the nursing program following her childhood dream.

"The instructors are great," Simmons said. "They take you under their wing, but if you are not here and not serious about it, you need to go elsewhere."

Wendy Duke of Ijamsville decided to go back to school after being a stay-at-home mom. Also in her first semester, Duke was inspired to become a nurse after watching nurses help a friend who was battling breast cancer.

"It's a lot of work, but it's been worth it," she said. "We've only been in class for one month, but we've learned so incredibly much."