Help me reconcile emotionally with my new graduate degree.
November 28, 2007 9:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm finishing a master's program in the next few weeks and I'm feeling horrible about my experience acquiring it. I did a 2 and a half year accelerated nursing program that led into a master's to become a nurse practitioner. I am really excited about the field and looking forward to where the degree can take me, but the last year and a half (the master's portion) of the process was so emotionally damaging I'm not sure how to move on!

The woman who is the program director of my specialty, as well as our professor the majority of the time, is an overworked, sleep-deprived, seemingly bipolar or demented character who drove us all crazy during the program. Almost everything was disorganized (from what time classes would start, to where and when we would do clinical hours), tests and lecture notes were full of typos, and she never bothered to learn the majority of our names. Often, she would disagree with students about proper patient care when she was clearly wrong, and at other times she would contradict herself in the same lecture. I'm ending this program feeling ill-prepared and embarrassed of how little I was required to know to get by.

I paid about 100,000 dollars in total for this educational experience, and I just can't believe that this is how I'm feeling coming out of a top-ranked program at an Ivy League institution.

Today was our last day of class, and the afternoon was filled with student presentations. I left the classroom to go to the bathroom at the end of a presentation, and chatted in the hallway with several classmates for close to ten minutes (students were going in and out of class because we hadn't really gotten a lunch break). When I got back into class, there was a note on my desk that said "See Me" - clearly from my professor as she was sitting nearby. When I approached her after class she said "You were out of class for over 30 minutes. I timed you. I started timing at 20 minutes and you were gone for over 10 minutes more." When I protested that I thought it was closer to 10 or 15 minutes, she disagreed and said that "Also, you went in and out of class several times - I saw you!" Again, this was blatantly untrue, and totally bizarre. The only explanation is that she saw some people I was sitting near leave also and since she has never figured out who we are individually, she blamed me. Anyway, there was nothing really to say. anything I said was disputed, I apologized, she told me how rude I was to my classmates, and I walked away before the tears started falling. I think it was the frustration and anger about the entire program combined with the humiliation of being treated like a third grader in front of other classmates that did me in.

I still doubt she even knows my name - so I'm not too concerned about any repercussions (although what repercussions could there really be for a bathroom break???), but I just feel shamed and shocked. Of course I want her to like me, no matter how crazy she is, and I just can't believe that the already bitter taste I had in my mouth about this program was made that much worse on the very last day of lecture. I can't decide if I should take this any farther - try to tell her how I feel unfairly singled out? Or just let it go?

Anyway, what happened today is the less problematic issue overall. What I'm most concerned about is having signed myself up for a lifetime of debt without feeling like it was entirely worth it. How can I deal with this? My husband wants me to compile anonymous testimonials of my classmates experiences in the program, and submit them all along with a cover letter to the administrators at this school. He seems to think that that would at least change things for future students, but I'm not so sure. The general feeling in my class is that we're helpless, as people have complained in the past, without results.

Regardless, I don't quite know how one deals with feeling their education is a joke. Ideas?
posted by hurricanemag to Education (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say don't confront her directly. You have no power over her and that's likely to be all she cares about. It would just be another bad scene to bum you out.

Communicate you thought the program was poorly run in whatever forum makes sense. If there aren't formal evaluations complain about that too, in a letter to the appropriate administration - probably a Dean's office?

The very recent stress and reasonable anger of the confrontation over being out of the room is probably magnifying anxiety about the value of your education. You don't sound like the kind of person who just sat back and learned nothing while some mediocre administrator/educator screwed up a program. I'm sure you got as much as possible out of your education. The bottom line is that you have an honest credential that will allow you to do really valuable work that you say you're excited about. That's pretty great and it is not that much debt for a graduate degree. It's only 67,000 euros!
posted by nanojath at 9:54 PM on November 28, 2007

Best answer: Wow. I can't decide if I'm heartened or depressed to have read this.

I'm just about halfway through a 3-year direct-to-NP program (my class is due to sit for the NCLEX in Jan, and 15 minutes ago I found out my assignment for my first NP preceptorship!), and among my classmates there is a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the program that is similar to yours. Like you, we're at a well respected school, which was a pioneer in NP training.

While I don't feel that the education is a "joke" exactly, I was a bit surprised with the (low) level of academic rigor and clinical preparation, at least for this generalist portion. (Of course, I oughtn't be saying this right now, since we're nearing finals and I don't want to jinx myself!)

It's rumored that my program is really strongest in the advanced practice portion of the training, so I'm not in despair yet. But I know some of my classmates seem to be struggling more to "get over" their disappointment with the program and their dissatisfaction with the lack of organization and too-high proportion of sub-par or flagrantly erroneous instruction.

My feeling is that a large part my nursing chops is going to come from clinical experience. THAT is where the real education will come. At the risk of being struck down for heresy, I personally think that the pendulum has swung too far away from the vocational or apprenticeship philosophy of training. At least, it has in my context, where all of us already have bachelor degrees in other fields. So, I tell myself, given that I want to become a nurse practitioner, and given the current state of the educational preparation for NPs, this is the best, or among the best, of my options for achieving that objective. The education is not a joke... it's just that there is no way to absorb all the knowledge that we know we will need in such a short course of study.

It is scary to think about the first years out. I really think that there ought to be a residency for NPs, similar in spirit to that for MDs.

As for the incident with the crazy instructor... I would say certainly let it go. Her perceptions sound inaccurate and unfair, but it also sounds like the crazy is deeply ingrained.

As for the overarching problem, I can tell you that my class has a similar feeling of helplessness. We have tried voicing our concerns to the administration, but we are like waves against the cliffs. Maybe over time, enough repetition of complaints will result in some changes. If you do decide to go with your husband's suggestion, you might strongly consider waiting until your degree is in your hot little hands and you've passed the boards, anonymity or not.
posted by tentacle at 10:07 PM on November 28, 2007

Once you've graduated, is there any need to keep it anonymous? That is, will this person have any continuing power over you? Because putting your name on something makes a much stronger statement.
posted by eritain at 10:13 PM on November 28, 2007

Aww honey. I feel for you. I'm feeling similarly towards my current degree and it annoys me to no end when everyone else thinks I'm insulting THEM because I didn't like my university experience. abuh.

Is there any way you can team up with the rest of your coursemates and come up with solutions together?
posted by divabat at 10:14 PM on November 28, 2007

Check out the graduate student nurse forum at Remember, too, that nurse educators are at a premium these days.
posted by chudder at 10:27 PM on November 28, 2007

I dont have much to add in terms of a solution, but my interest has been piqued, as I'm waiting for admissions decisions for several ABSN/MSN programs. Would you be able to let us know if this is regarding Columbia ETP, Yale GEPN or another school?

I also frequent allnurses, and you will definitely find a receptive forum there if you pose this question to others who may have come before you.
posted by Asherah at 10:54 PM on November 28, 2007

Once you are an alumna the school will solicit you for donations. Return each envelope with a note that says you simply cannot donate to a program that is so poorly managed. Point out that the problems you cite are not fixed by money, but by care and attention. Ask for an update as to how they've improved the academic experience.

The alumni are considered an essential cash stream. Let your displeasure be known by withholding all contributions. Ask some like minded classmates to do the same.

(And yes, my graduate school continues to send me donation requests. I have no idea why they bother.)
posted by 26.2 at 11:29 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

1. You will meet this woman, in many other shapes and sizes, throughout your life. She (or he, as the case may be) will turn up among your patients and colleagues. If you are unlucky, you'll get her again in a position of immediate authority. If you are extremely unlucky, you'll get her as the significant other of a close friend or family member and be stuck with her for life. There are about three of her at my current place of employment. Learning to deal with her (or him, as the case may be) is about as important as anything else you learned in nursing school. My method is usually just to say whatever I need to say to end the encounter as quickly as possible. (In your example above, rather than insisting I had had only one short break, I would blame the fictional multiple breaks on diarrhoea or menstrual issues, giving TMI until they backed off.) I'm not saying mine is the best method, just the one that works for me. You'll have to find what works for you.

2. Go to the nursing forums mentioned by others and write a long comprehensive rant about your educational experience. You'll get some closure, and future students who google your institution will be warned.

Best wishes in your new career.
posted by happyturtle at 2:07 AM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Regardless, I don't quite know how one deals with feeling their education is a joke.
This is not an uncommon feeling. Even without the psycho lecturers.
Believe me, you will not be the first or last person in the world to think their degree was a big waste of time and money but in your field you really didn't have much of a choice. Just put it behind you and get on with your life. Focus on how much you're looking forward to getting a job and forget all about this bad experience.
posted by missmagenta at 3:16 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Once you're out of there you could throw a review up on Just cut'n'paste what you write here; it might help someone else avoid her.

I can't think of a quick fix, but over time real-world experience drowns out classroom learning; after a year in the workplace this will be much less of an issue. On the plus side, you've already proven your tenacity by completing this course... you just have to hang in there a little bit longer.
posted by Leon at 3:45 AM on November 29, 2007

Regardless, I don't quite know how one deals with feeling their education is a joke.

I left medical school feeling like my clinical experiences had been pretty superficial, and that the standards to pass the course were very lax. 6 years later I look back and see medical school as just this weird hoop I had to jump through to become a doctor. 95% of what makes you good at interacting with patients is either innate or acquired after you graduate.
posted by roofus at 4:50 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, man, grad school (of any kind) is such an emotional wringer for almost everyone. I remember once writing in my blog about crying in the middle of my accounting class (long story) and a friend, who had done an MPH replied by saying "doesn't grad school make everyone cry?" It's kind of true.
But now you're done! And you don't have to deal with this crap anymore. Of course, you'll have a new kind of crap to deal with in the workplace, but you can deal with it.

As for the $100K - I totally feel you. My first loan payments are about to come due, and it's hard not to feel a bit of a lump in my throat, wondering if it was worth it. But I'm doing a job I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have gotten before my degree, I'm making literally twice what I was making before. So I guess it was worth it. Just consolidate your loans so there's one payment a month, pay it automatically, and pretend that you're not even earning that money.
posted by lunasol at 7:08 AM on November 29, 2007

Maybe I'm missing something here, but you're basically outta there, right? So the question is how to deal with the feeling that you've been treated poorly, rather than actually flunking out and not getting the degree, yes?

Well, the answer is ... time. You'll get over it, just as all the legions of former abused graduate students did. I felt abused myself, but now, 20 years later, I just look back on it as something I had to get through. And I did. And I'm actually proud of myself for making it. Maybe I'm even a little bit badass, in a geeky sort of way.

I have never given any money to my alma mater, though, and when a real live rep talked to me I told them why. That felt pretty good. But basically, you just get on with your life, get immersed in your new career, and eventually the whole thing just recedes into the past. Then you can swap "war" stories with other survivors and look fondly at the dewy-eyed innocents who talk excitedly about their plans for graduate training.
posted by Quietgal at 7:43 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: It is just this sort of emotional wringing that leads me to advise prospective graduate students to pursue their studies only if they really, really love the field. No amount of career advancement will compensate you for the inevitable crazy professors or sleepless nights spent working on pointless assignments. You say, in your first paragraph, that you're really excited about working in your field, and that's wonderful--many students are so burned out after grad school that they just walk away entirely. That's pretty much what I did.

I imagine that you'd not be the first to complain about your instructor, and that the administration has, for whatever reason, deliberately chosen to ignore the previous complaints, as it will yours. Of course, your complaint may possibly be the final straw that instigates some sort of disciplinary action, but I'd bet you'd never be notified of what that action was. You can complain on the hopes that future students won't have to go through what you did, and I suppose that's a noble goal. But, yeah, I guess I'm a little bitter and cynical (10 years out now!) about your chances of making a difference.

Your feelings of helplessness are justified, and I truly sympathise, but, in my experience, and in the experience of just about everyone I know, they are absolutely ubiquitous among anyone who's gone through the process. It sucks that one person, especially a crazy person, can have so much control over your life, but the best you can do is try to weather the storm and get your best revenge by living well.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my pharmacy school the administrators are pretty concerned with staying on good terms with the board that accredits schools. If the school's not accredited, graduates can't practice, so it's pretty much mandatory. And there is a clear procedure for writing a letter to the board. There has got to be something similar in your field. It sounds pretty bad - I would complain.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:56 AM on November 29, 2007

Hello from a fellow Ivy League nursing student!

Erase the worry of debt from your mind. Remember that you are in demand right now, (especially as a Family Practitioner) which means you have a large chance of getting loan forgiveness, especially if you work for a large-ish hospital. It might not be all of your loans, but it's a big chunk.

As tentacle said, you get most of your education from your actual clinical time. I'm only one semester from sitting for the RN NCLEX, and I feel the same kind of unpreparedness as you seem to be expressing (not for the test, but for the job). At Penn, a lot of the education in the Nursing School is non-essential and quite schizophrenic. Getting a bad clinical instructor can mean the difference between a semester full of educational experiences or a semester of hell trying to avoid your preceptor.

I'm not surprised to hear that Columbia faces the same issues as Penn.

Did you take a break from the program and work full time as an RN prior to entering the NP program? I've found that the most jittery NP candidates at my school are the ones who never found their footing as a nurse before becoming an advanced practice nurse (personally, I think they shouldn't let people become NPs before performing duties as an RN, but that's only my opinion on the matter).

If you've done well in your clinicals, you will most likely be a fabulous nurse. Don't let one crazy friggen teacher undermine your confidence. There are always a couple of loonies in a nursing school (or in any school, for that matter).

One of my clinical preceptors made everyone in our eight-person group cry at least once during the semester. She was a horrible teacher, but they kept her anyways. Everyone complained about her every semester, and yet she still walks the halls to terrorize some more sophomores. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do. They won't fire this person, and might not even talk to her, because they need instructors so badly right now.

Also, in order to survive a teacher berating you for being late, leaving the room for too long, etc: I've found that my ability to claim a medical problem has grown to epic proportions. Now, if a nursing teacher yells at me for whatever reason, I give them a set of symptoms for, say, the Norwalk virus. They happily begin to diagnose me, and I smile and nod and promise to see student health services. They love me for asking them for medical advice, and I get away free! If only that worked on my comp sci professor....

posted by nursegracer at 8:03 AM on November 29, 2007

Don't let your grad school experience turn you off of nursing. I'm sure you'll be an excellent NP. You're going to learn so much in your first year in an actual nursing job that the crappy parts of grad school will fade in the distance. Dealing with this woman IS good practice for managing the lousy co-workers and supervisors you will encounter along the way.

So hang in there, commiserate with your fellow students, and don't let her discourage you about nursing. NPs rule the world, in my personal opinion, and we always need more.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:16 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: You got an Ivy League education with only $100,000 in debt?!? Good for you. You got a DEAL! Your professors' jobs and salaries have nothing to do with their teaching. Teaching of instruction has nothing to do with whether this prof. will keep her job, get promoted, etc. It's the research that matters, and if she's pulling in $2 mil. in grant money, the school doesn't care that she's a poor instructor. Many of the Masters level courses are also designed to be cash cows, where people pay the big bucks for the Ivy League diploma. So use the "reputation" factor of your degree help yourself to a better job and start paying off your debt. Think of the poor folk who got themselves into similar debt and are washing dishes for a living.
posted by peachy at 9:21 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of my roommates in an NP and had similar issues, too. Certainly, the program was hell-on-earth for her and her classmates (there was something like three complete psychological breakdowns, and everyone else was totally demoralized, sleep deprived, and everything else).

Don't worry about the debt -- she's paying hers off at lightning speed. About feeling unprepared, I think anyone in medicine faces the "oh my god, I'm supposed to help people -- I don't know anything! Who am I to try to do this?" You learn as you go.

I'd focus on getting a good job now. Look for good training and mentorship on the job, good overtime policies, and a good salary.

(Disclaimer: I'm going off of what I've heard of one person's experience, plus the random freak-outs of med school friends.)
posted by salvia at 9:47 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the feedback - it feels really, really good to hear that general burnout and depression is normal at the end of grad school - as sad as that is. Also good to hear that other programs may be just as messed up as mine, although I have heard that throughout my years here, I've never been sure what to think. Sigh. I'm sure that it is just something that time has to heal. And thank god for my classmates who feel the same way.

to nursegracer and tentacle - I have been working as an RN since August 2006, while doing the master's portion, and it has given me invaluable experience and confidence. And, I definitely felt that I didn't know what I was doing when I started work as an RN, which definitely makes me much less worried for starting work as an NP. Sadly, in medicine there seems to be a point where you simply must learn by doing (which includes making some mistakes). Good luck to you both on the NCLEX.
posted by hurricanemag at 12:05 PM on November 29, 2007

fwiw and late as usual, you're probably not still monitoring this...but a close friend of mine went through what sounds like a very similar situation -- nurse practitioner masters program at an ivy league institution (with the added bent of being psychiatric nurse practitioner training) and came away feeling very much like you do now, according to her description. That was maybe 2 yrs ago that she graduated. Now she is doing pretty well per her own description, seemingly happy with her work, and if her feeling of being unprepared or undertrained ever had a major impact on her work, she never told me about it.
Good luck!
posted by Soulbee at 9:45 AM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

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