The growth of magnetic islands in NSTX is modeled successfully, with the consideration of passing fast ions. It is shown that a good quantitative agreement between simulation and experimental measurement can be achieved when the uncompensated cross-field current induced by passing fast ions is included in the island growth model. The fast ion parameters,
along with other equilibrium parameters, are obtained self-consistently using the TRANSP code with the assumptions of the ‘kick’ model (Podestà et al 2017 Plasma Phys. Control. Fusion 59 095008). The results show that fast ions can contribute to overcoming the stabilizing effect of polarization current for magnetic island growth.