Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Especially for the students: The bully professor

An astute Anonymous Minion commented on my bully post below that she'd/he'd had trouble with bullying professors in school. I don't particularly want to go back and find the quote, as I'm currently recovering from a FABULOUS alcohol-and-food-soaked weekend, but it was along the lines of "Dude. Totes not the case. My nursing professors are snacking on the bodies of students even as we speak."

Except more eloquent than that.

I don't know if I've told this story before, but the first day of finals in my first semester of nursing school, I had to put down my beloved, beloved dog. She'd been sick for a while and had taken a sudden and awful turn for the worst, so I skipped a clinical exam with the assurance that I would and could make it up the next day.

When I went to the professor who was administering that exam, (who, by the way, was fine with me making it up) she told me the following thing:

"You know, you're going to have to learn to prioritize what's really important."

My clearest memory of that encounter was thinking, "I could put her up to the wall and nail that gorram bow on the back of her head to these lockers."

Later, I had a professor who told us quite bluntly that all nurses were codependent, bitchy, and mentally ill. Even later than that, I had a third professor who used her position to advance her own quite odd ideas about health care--believe me when I tell you that a "Vitamin C cleanse" was the least weird thing she brought up in patho--and go on political rants unrelated to the course.

It wasn't until I had been a nurse for a couple of years that I realized that all these women had one thing in common: they hated nursing as a career. They'd gotten *out* of hospital nursing because they either couldn't manage the speed and intensity of floor work (the first professor was quite frank about that) or they were depressed or disgruntled by, you know, actually having to conform to things like protocols and policies.

The instructors I had who were still working as nurses, on the other hand, were fantastic. They were, thank God, in the majority--and they were, as a group, some of the toughest, strongest, most skilled women I have ever met in any profession. They were nurturing in the best sense of the word: emphasizing strengths, correcting weaknesses, and not afraid to admit when they didn't know the answers. They were realistic about the weirdos we were likely to encounter, and gave us tools to deal with them. They demanded respect not by being autocratic, but by showing us students what good nursing really was. Some of them would express frustration with doctors or hospital policies or the nursing world in general sometimes, but that frustration was always tempered with the lesson that some things that frustrate you nonetheless have a purpose.

As a result of that experience, and as a result of working with dozens of other nursing professors from other institutions over the years, I look at nursing professors with slightly narrowed eyes now. Honestly, if somebody's still working a floor job or an ICU job on weekends, I tend to take them more seriously--that's my personal prejudice, and I own it.

The point of this is that, if you have a professor who's a bully--belittling, negative, angsty about nursing in general--you should look at where they're coming from. It's not necessarily going to help you solve the bullying problem, but it'll at least give you an insight into their psychology. It might even help to keep you from getting too depressed.

Of the nine professors I had through school, three were bugnuts insane. Of the probably three dozen professors I've worked with in a clinical setting, there have been five I was very, very concerned about. The rest of 'em, whether in my own school or in the hospital, have ranged from good to awesome. They're out there, the good instructors--it's just that the way the typical nursing school is funded and run makes it hard for the good ones to be obviously good. They're too busy grading and running committees and publishing.

My advice? Look for the good 'uns. Make an effort to get to know those professors who you could see as solid mentors outside of class. Use them as buffers against the bugnuttery. Polish your Crazy Detector, and keep it active during your first year or two as a nurse.

And do not despair. Corporate culture varies greatly from hospital to hospital. The culture can even be changed from the inside (but that's another post for another time). If you find yourself in the alligator pit, the beauty of nursing as a job is that you can always find a less-reptile-infested place to work.

And, if you can find a good 'un or two, to bloom.

If you're one of the students I precept, I will do my level best to make you less frightened of what's coming. You and me, we're in this thing together, and you can teach me as much as I can teach you. Provided I don't go bugnuts from this weekend's mashed-potato-and-wine overdose.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is that a "Firefly" reference in the middle of your reverie of professorial violence? Or do they just happen to use the word "gorram" too?

Anonymous said...

I'm currently in nursing school. One of the teachers I recently had is one of those "don't drink splenda, it will give you cancer" types, which is find maybe in moderation; but beyond that, she claims that she gets "burned" by the scanner for med administration, and even showed a fellow classmate of mine how to shock herself with copper wires and batteries to get rid of "parasites" which she claimed is what causes the majority of our health problems. C-raaaaazzzzzy.

A lot of the instructors that I have just seem to love the power trip, but a handful of them I'm really glad I've gotten to learn from.

Loki said...

I'm glad I've got a different experience. I'm about to re-take my second to last semester of nursing school because life and my own depression got in the way. My instructor called me on the phone to let me know I would be unable to pass the class, but at the same time she told me they already had a learning plan in place to ensure that I would graduate (even if not on time) without this fuckup marring my record.

They even asked how I was doing personally, offered suggestions on where to get counseling and were generally stellar people. I'll be writing them thank-you notes to express my sincere appreciation of how much they've extended themselves for me.

I'm looking forward to working as a nurse, and when I do I'm going to try to precept student nurses - it was always my preceptors that made nursing seem less intimidating and more awesome.

Anonymous said...

Jo, at the risk of exposing myself, I'm pretty sure that the anonymous poster who wrote:

>I would respectfully disagree
>with the "bullshit" part - I'm a
>second degree student...

is my classmate, as we were very recently talking about your fabulous blog! I can't agree with her more; we have been treated horrifically by some of our professors. I can mostly agree with you when you say that the instructors who are still nurses were fantastic. This was mostly true for us, with a notable exception in our first semester (though I suspect this had more to do with the fact that this nurse was WAY over-committed to her own educational goals, family, and full-time nursing position).

The most supportive and nurturing professor we had? Our pharmacology professor, currently working as a pharmacist.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something fundamental in nursing education that needs to change.

-snurse8 (soon to be nurse8!)

Anonymous said...

Nursing lecturers can make all the difference. There were quite a few people along the way in my course who dropped out because of crazy lecturers. Im sure a few of them had it in personally for some of the students. People were failed by a couple of marks and put a whole year behind because of it! One lecturer stands out in particular. It wasn't that she was mean or crazy. She just seemed to take the whole academic nursing degree thing quite seriously. Im sure she ranked our abilities to do APA referencing as more important than clinical knowledge and nursing skills. In hindsight alot of it helped later in the course with essays and assignments but it was like she had forgotten what nursing was about. And especially what was important when you're a new nurse. I think she just got caught up in the academic side of things too much. But atleast she was passionate about it I guess!

The Future Missy Prissy RN said...

Awesome, Awesome, Awesome advice for someone trying to get and make it in the field. These are the little tidbits you cherish. Thank you so much!!!

Anonymous said...

I always had the attitude the professors were on my time not the other way around and I had to make that known on more than one ocassion.

Anonymous said...

Jo, I think that was my comment you were referring to, in which case thanks for taking the time to come back to this topic!!

On the one hand it's strangely reassuring to hear that other people are having similar experiences, simply because I've spent most of the last year and a half feeling like I'm living on another planet and finding it impossible to relate to anyone who isn't in nursing school. (Going to the gym and lifting really heavy stuff was the only way I got through it - another reason I love your blog!!)

But on the other hand, what the fuck?!?!? are we doing to ourselves? If this is happening everywhere, isn't it time that we confronted it head on?

But, easier said than done... The supreme irony is that at my school, the perpetrators themselves "confronted this issue" - by having us go to a mandatory lecture on horizontal violence and intimidation in nursing. And arranging it so that the people who might have wanted to speak out about something, couldn't, for fear of retaliation.

Incidentally, for all the commenters whose advice is essentially "don't let the crazies get to you": I'm all for positive coping mechanisms, and maybe this is a good strategy in the workplace, but in nursing school we're talking about people who can destroy, or seriously set back, our careers. They know people of influence in every health care and academic institution in the area - not to mention the fact that transferring to another school with a disciplinary record, or even having to repeat a year, is no joke at our age.

I think a lot of the ideas brought up so far have been right on. But nursing school has also taught me (ha!) that we have to look for system failure as well as human error, and so I really hope we can figure out what's wrong with the current system of nursing education that's allowing this scenario to crop up all over the country.

Or just subsidize weightlifting clubs (boxing classes?) for nursing students.

PS what up snurse8!!! holla
:)

Bonnie said...

We've got an interesting sitch in my nursing school. One prof isn't that good, is very controlling, nitpicky about policies, and comes across as an uneducated bitch.
Being no spring chicken, I looked under the situation...she's admitted to being nervous lecturing in front of a (possibly hostile) class, and has been told by HER HIGHER UPS to enforce the policies. I.e., instead of doing the dirty work themselves, administration is pushing it off on the instructors and making them the 'bad guys'.
I've also noticed that sadly, some of the young people we have, although dedicated to nursing, don't have a clue about professional attire or behavior. They really don't understand (for example) that flipflops are not always appropriate footwear, and that even if you disagree with a dress code, you still have to follow it because it's one of the conditions that you agreed to. But instead mentoring these kids, or having a detailed discussion about the business world, it's left up to the instructors to play bad cop and enforce what seems to be meaningless rules.
Needless to say, morale at my school is pretty low across both students and I believe instructors. My fellow students are jumping all over this one instructor, but I believe she's stuck between a rock and a hard place and doesn't have the chops to handle it. That's not her fault, honestly (although I hope she decides to learn how to handle it).
Really, I think if the DON wants to enforce policies, she needs to get her happy ass down to the class (I have no idea who ANY of the admins are), meet with us, and explain their position, not just dump her dirty work on her subordinates.
There's a serious disconnect at my school between the folks who run the place and the students, and it shows.

a mid-life career changer who's too experienced to fall for corporate style bullshit.

danielle said...

I have never understood how you can teach nursing, if you dont work in nursing to keep up with the changes. I especially dont understand it now that I am a part time clinical instructor. I am having to "teach" students how to do skills that were not even done that way when I was in school eons ago - and then go out with them on the floor to show them how it is done in the "real world". Needless to say, the skills and the checkoffs are formulated by instructors who have not worked in the hospital setitng for years - maybe 1/2 as long (or more) that I have been an RN. And fighting to change that is hard - frustrating - time consuming - thankless....blah blah blah.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I fuckin' LOVE your blog -- AND your mashed potatoes. :-) had a great time. Would love to talk to you more about the potential of becoming RN-squared... the thought of going back to school is scary but then again is the thought of losing my damned corporate high-tech job every year and a half. I'm going to waste the rest of my day reading your blog now. :-) Love, Rob