William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Wednesday, 15, July, 2009

A New Record!

Filed under: Teaching — williamthecoroner @ 15:46

The shortest time between the start of classes and a student’s decompensation:   68 HOURS!  Yes, indeedy!  Classes started Monday, and today I had a student in my office, in tears, asking for tutoring help because it is all “Just too much,” and this individual is “Filled with despair.”

I asked what the student’s latest exam scores were, and what subject was causing trouble.  Ah.  This is a FIRST YEAR.  ORIENTATION is causing trouble.  The first examination is nine weeks away.

As I get older, I’m very, very thankful for the mental filter that I find really useful.  I suppressed all my anti-social tendencies and gently suggested that this student would be better served in talking to the Society Dean.  The tutoring program is not really designed to help a student who is having anxiety.  Everyone feels thrown in the deep end, but part of medical education is learning to manage being thrown in the deep end, and not being able to carry it all in your head.

I hope this student pulls together.  Or beats feet early.  Some aren’t cut out for the pressures of the job.

And I’m so glad I didn’t say anything stupid.  I rarely regret what I didn’t say, and I need to keep working on that.


  1. It must be that time of year. Geez. When a client has a meltdown, I do not particularly care (sorry, but true. Your tax dollars pay me to help as many clients as possible, not listen to a client’s sob story and breakdown). But when a colleague has a breakdown, man. It is rough. I had to send a colleague home yesterday, and another one today after they had a breakdown on me.

    Comment by Katherine — Wednesday, 15, July, 2009 @ 18:57 | Reply

  2. It IS hard not to tell them the truth, but as you said, it’s not your job. Sadly I think ‘students’ like this are going to become more prevelent, as the peer passers start graduating and are confronted with reality for the first time!

    Comment by Old NFO — Wednesday, 15, July, 2009 @ 19:20 | Reply

  3. It’s not just people of “student” age. I am in my late 30’s and have encountered several people like this over the last couple of years. Pushing financial decisions onto a spouse because “it’s too much”, dealing with their children…, dealing (or not) with a sick or elderly parent and pushing decisions off on siblings, etc.

    I have several chronic health conditions so I understand that personal life and family life can feel overwhelming at times, but it seems that some people are going through life supposedly overwhelmed.

    Comment by Stiff Man — Thursday, 16, July, 2009 @ 02:09 | Reply

  4. Oh, the memories you called up with this short post. I never thought that I’d have to deal with such meltdowns so frequently, especially at university level. At the end of my teaching career, I made a timely switch to an urban high school — with several magnet programs and the international baccalaureat diploma program, so there was scads of pressure on those mostly poor black overachieving city kids. In three years? Not a single instance of meltdown. Okay, well, maybe it would be better to say not a single SERIOUS instance — and that in the [very serious] face of rapes, parental abandonment, homelessness, and the dreaded boyfriend/girlfriend break-ups and spats. On the other hand, I taught at Berkeley and Duke, and those kids? Good God. They’d want to drop a class for being all stressed out before the first class meeting. “The professor is mean.” “I can’t get up at 8 am.” They had their PARENTS call me to finagle favors — you haven’t lived until one of your students sneers at you, saying, “Do you know who I *am*?” (And in the head, yes, where most remarks should stay, happily undelivered: “Yes, you mental midget, I know who you are: the snotty son of a second-rate failed actress who will trade on that rep for the rest of your life…”)

    My first week at UC-B, I collected essays that Friday, but was blissfully considering a drive up the coast — it was one of those incredibly beautiful days — and planned to deal with grading on Sunday. For some reason, I fought off the urge to go find the ocean spray and forced myself to read the stellar thoughts of my Freshmen French students.

    The third essay I read was a suicide note*.

    I tell you — that pretty much instilled a lifelong habit of getting my grading done post haste.

    *campus security found the student and he was okay, though he did end up dropping out.

    So bon courage, and be as patient as you can!

    Comment by Bianca Castafiore — Thursday, 16, July, 2009 @ 10:03 | Reply

  5. well done for not saying what you were thinking 🙂 … it’s a skill that we all need to master!

    Comment by julie — Sunday, 19, July, 2009 @ 06:44 | Reply

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