Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How I Got My Nursing License

Nursing school was basically free (or at least very inexpensive) for me. I was working at a community hospital while taking classes and 8-hour-long clinicals. The hospital had a pool of money available to share among its employees who were taking work-related courses. I paid up-front for tuition each semester and afterwards submitted grades to the nice lady in the financial office. A grade of B or better would mean I got a check to cover my tuition. Sweet.

I hardly ever bought texts. The RN's I worked with either loaned or gave me theirs. All the good parts were already underlined or highlighted for me.

I didn't stick my neck out. I got through nursing school by avoiding eye contact and keeping my head down. I'd let other students comment in class, then I'd either chime in or stay quiet depending upon how the instructors reacted to the question or opinion.

I wore solid black to every class.

Except sometimes, often in fact, I wore red sneakers. I like the shoes that collegiate wrestlers wear. These are light and have little sole. They come up around the ankles. Plus, nobody else wears them out and about. People would ask me where I got them, and I would tell them about the sports catalogues from which these things could be purchased. Wrestling shoes. Be the first kid on your block to sport them around.

I only missed two classes of the whole of them. One was to go to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins were the warm-ups. At the end of their set, Billy Corgin purposely left his guitar leaning up against a speaker cabinet and the arena was filled with screeching feedback as they left the stage. Very cool. The other was for the Public Enemy and Anthrax tour, with Primus and the Young Black Teenagers opening. Flavor Flav came out in pink bunny slippers and his trademark clock medallion. Anthrax did a speed-of-light version of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time."

I claimed to be sick for the first, and said in half-truth that I had to go to traffic court the second time. Truth is not always your friend.

Nursing schools pride themselves on their graduation rates and the percentage of their graduates who pass the boards on the first go. They mercilessly weed out any student that they even remotely think might fail the board exams. Many people who I wanted to pull along because I thought they would be good nurses were flunked because the instructors just plain didn't like their board prospects. Secretly I tried to help some of my fellow classmates. If it became apparent that they were getting help it drew negative attention to them. I would meet them in their cars in the parking lot after class.

One young woman I helped in this way was cut. We were making our "drug cards" together in her car after a clinical and one of the instructors saw us together. This young girl, fresh out of high school and eager to be a nurse, got the dump after being pommeled, scrutinized, and harrassed by our mostly elderly nurse instructors; people who hadn't worked at the bedside in many years.

One of my male classmates who had already had a physical-therapy degree was bumped off the rails simply because one of the more mean-spirited old-fashioned instructors didn't like him personally, I am quite sure. I saw single mothers struggling through school get dumped in the last semester just because some entrenched instructor didn't like one of their patient care-plans. That was particularly sad. One had two kids. Her mother cared for them so she could go to school and study.


I am luckily one of those people who "tests well," and I graduated in the top four of my class. Not that I'm proud. I maintained my training schedule during nursing school, qualifying for and running in the Boston Marathon in those years. That was probably easier than nursing school itself.

Though most of my teachers and clinical instructors were jack-assed throwbacks, I did like a few. Our mental-health nurse teacher was great. We had "positive group" at the end of our clinicals, in which she randomly challenged us to say good things that we observed one another do.

There was a drug bust during one of those 8-hour sessions in the mental-health unit. One of the younger patients was caught dealing cocaine to other patients. State troopers hauled him away. I have no idea how he managed to get his friends to sneak cocaine into a locked unit such as that one.

One of my classroom instructors was one of those people who had a wide variety of interests. I liked her and she liked me. She herself had graduated from the famed Boston University nursing school, and she knew well of my interests in Boston at that time. She said she could pull a few strings and get me a job there after graduation. That didn't pan out because I followed the love of my life to The Dismal Wilderness instead. The things we do for love...

I wrote papers on suicide, Menier's disease, and the moral development of children, among other things, for that instructor. I thought she graded them rather generously. As part of my research I visited suicide self-help groups for family members of people who had killed themselves, and I visited Montessori schools. I read Freud, Erickson, and Kohlberg and learned to pretty much hate one of those guys. I think that teacher appreciated my outside work, as if it were an effort. I actually just did it for enjoyment.

I also remember reading Paradise Lost while eating at the college snackbar between work and class, watching Sam Nunn cast his vote in favor of Clarence Thomas on the television news. Fucking bastards the both of them. While doing that I stumbled across one of my favorite words, said to have been coined by Milton: Pandemonium.

I paid about $200 to take my nursing board exams back in the day. But before the results were mailed out to us, the company that administered the tests for the state of New York demanded about another $180 from each of us. They raised the price of the licensing exam retroactively!


When I received the congratulatory letter in the mail months later, it wasn't for me but for another nursing graduate with a similar name. I called them up (they lived in Malone, about an hours' drive from where I was living at the time,) to tell them that they passed.

That person did not, however, have my results, as I had hoped. After several phone calls and an annoying written appeal or two, I finally got my passing grade and was able to collect an RN's pay instead of a "graduate nurse" pay.

Fucking incompetent greedy fuckers.

I was in the last class of NY nurses that took exams the old-fashioned way: on paper, with some skinny bitch exam proctor wandering among us to make sure we didn't cheat and to follow us to the bathroom. I took this test with about 4,000 others in a large convention room at the state capitol hundreds of miles from my home. The exam took two days. Many of my classmates pooled resources and shared local hotel rooms. I instead drove from Albany to my father's place in Saratoga Springs and he put me up for the night.

He said he was proud of me. He never obtained a college degree nor did he practice a profession.

I was lucky.

The cost of national board certification for teachers totals up to $2,500. That's sick. That's more than doctors pay for their basic three stages of exams.

Now, back to the Crack Den.

1 comment:

WinnyNinny PooPoo said...

I had a cousin who was an artist in NYC that wore wrestling boots and John Lennon type glasses. Suits, overalls, dress slacks, jeans - the wrestling boots were his thing...But his weren't red...