Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Post HESI Survivor's Guilt

The past few days have been exhausting. After the elation of passing HESI wore off I have felt drained of energy. At first I thought maybe i was feeling a little guilty. I want to celebrate the fact that I passed, but 22 of 60 students didn't pass and I feel terrible about it. I feel traumatized by the whole experience, the preparation leading up to the test and the tension that had built up over time.

So much is at stake. If we don't pass, we can't graduate. We get several chances to try again, but only two chances before graduation and pinning. For a lot of people that means cancelling graduation plans, money wasted on plane tickets, the embarrassment of having to tell your family you didn't pass. To make matters worse some students have internships and jobs lined up that they won't be able to start if they don't graduate.

I didn't know what to do with these feelings. Fortunately another classmate who passed the test opened up to me and it turns out she feels the same way. We talked to other students and several others who passed are feeling the same strange funk.

At the beginning of the semester a classmate came up with a plan to help students succeed. She suggested that the students who pass HESI participate in tutoring sessions for the students who didn't pass.

It turned out to be a terrible idea for several reasons. The students who didn't pass are very embarrassed about it, and they feel humiliated to be in the same room with their classmates who passed. For those of us who passed, we're drained and exhausted. We feel that we just don't have anything left to give. I know that since the day of the test I have had this gnawing sense of responsibility for helping my classmates pass, and I resent it.

Then I have this classmate, the one who calls himself the class nerd, who has patronized me for every HESI I have passed. We have had three exams - one midcurricular exam, the LVN exam and now this one. I did well on all of them and he did not. He always says to me "well the reason you did so well is that you got a lot of questions on topics you're good at." Now I'd heard that the questions are random, but after talking to other classmates, I think we all had pretty much the same questions. I can safely say after taking the HESI three times and scoring more than 100 points beyond passing every time, it's not just the luck of the draw that got me through. It was hard work and staying on top of the material all the way through. There is no magic formula. It's not luck or fate. I hate it when he tries to minimize my accomplishment as a way of justifying his failure.

The other thing that bothers me is that that during our test review that was week before last, I listened to students asking questions and I realized that for many of them, this was not a review. For many of them, it was as if they were seeing the information for the first time.

As much as I would like to help my classmates succeed, I cannot teach them two years' worth of material in an afternoon study session. I'm sorry. Every once in a while during nursing school, a classmate would ask me to help him or her study, or I would be asked to join a study group. I would try and explain my study methods to them and they would always reject what I was trying to tell them or they would argue the information. I personally go straight to nursing interventions, then fill in the rest of the information later. That way if I run out of time to study before the test, I at least got the most critical information covered. I would try and convince them that, hey, you asked me how I do it, I'm telling you, you have to believe me. But okay. Have it your way. We'll go through the Powerpoints item by item if that is what you want to do.

So today in class the passers and failers eyed one another uneasily. The class nerd wouldn't even look at me, wouldn't talk to me. I take this as a sign that maybe somehow he finally gets it. I really did learn something in nursing school, and he's not really the class nerd after all. I know that the failing students have their own stories to tell. I know they have no sympathy for those of us who passed. They would trade places with us in a minute. Nevertheless, our feelings are real and we're doing our best to try and sort them out. We feel guilty as hell and we feel left alone to deal with the aftermath of this experience. We want to honor our committment to help our classmates succeed, but we're all too aware of what little we can actually do about it. I'm trying to choke down this ball of resentment mixed with guilt and it's not going down well at all.

I know the classmate who came up with the tutoring plan had her heart in the right place. I know she wanted us to bond as a class and help each other get through, but unfortunately it didn't turn out the way anybody had hoped. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I never imagined the form of hell it would turn into.

But I'll be okay. It's just a weird place to be.


Anonymous said...

I had to take the Hesi again. I got an 1148 this time. I'm so elated (and relieved!). I got an 822 the first time. Our school also requires an 850 to pass. The first time I took it-the questions seemed too easy-so I read into a lot of them and picked really stupid answers. This has been the month from HELL! Studying was a nightmare with all the papers and clinicals and other exams to take and prepare for. My husband and kids thought I was a monster-I was so edgy. When I didn't pass the first time-my classmates were like-What! YOU didn't pass?, because I tend to get high grades. There were still some students that did not pass this second time around and it was a terrible thing to witness. We were waiting for them outside the exam because we were all supposed to go to lunch afterwards-but most of them were just running to their cars crying. I feel terrible for them-if they cannot make it through this last week of school-they will fail for attendance alone. They will have one last chance-but it will be after graduation. They can go to pinning-but they can't walk. The best helpful hint I could give would be to focus on test-taking strategies-like Kaplan because there will be several unfamiliar drugs and disease processes on the Hesi.

Neumed said...

This is a very odd post. What's odd about it is that you're feeling guilty about doing well. I don't get it.

You may not realize it at the moment, but you did all those people a favor by showing them HOW to succeed.

Just continue to lead by example. You'll be helping them far more teaching them the right way than if you simply enable them to continue getting by doing things the wrong way.

License Pending said...

It is an emotional minefield. Just as you wanted to be there to support your classmates, we wanted to be there for them too. It never occurred to us that they probably wanted privacy around the situation. After failing they just wanted to be alone. I understand.

Good on you for hanging in there. I have a classmate who is also my co-worker that failed HESI four times. I admire her for being able to bounce back and try again.

I bought the Kaplan book and after reading it I got the worst test scores in my life. It probably has useful information for some, but for me it just blew away my test-taking mojo. Whatever thing I have that gets me through works for me so I've been sticking with that.

I did find the Saunders review book to be most helpful, not for the test-taking skills, but for the information that wasn't covered in class. I have said over and over to anyone who will listen, I won't let nursing school stand in the way of me getting my license. If they don't give it to me in school, I'll get it wherever I can. That way if I don't pass I can't blame anyone but myself.

Congratulations on passing! Happy graduation to you

License Pending said...

Hi Neumed

My guilt froms the obligation our classmate put on us for helping those who didn't make it.

I think I also feel guitly because as a class we are very close. I've heard horror stories about nursing school and competition with classmates, and our class didn't behave this way. We've always supported each other. Think of it as you and a buddy deciding you're going to try to get a really important job at a really great company, then you get hired but he doesn't, and every time you see him he's depressed and bitter. You want to feel good about your success but it's hard because you're affected by his sadness.

As I mentioned, I have tried explaining to my classmates what it is I do, and tried showing them how to do it, but they were impervious to my teaching. And as I also pointed out, one of my classmates refuses to see me as successful. To him I'm just lucky and my passing has nothing to do with my ability or how hard I have worked.

I appreciate your point of view though. It's a very positive perspective.

RehabNurse said...

I understand entirely. I had to take the HESI last year, and while it was not required to graduate, it is a good predictor of how well you'll do on Boards (at least that's what our school admins said). Your score also proved if you would have to take an "NCLEX prep" class which had homework and was held weekly. If you passed, you were free to move about the cabin with no homework and no extra class.

We had to take the entire thing the week after spring break. We got our schedules a semester in advance, so everyone knew exactly when (except for room number) we'd have the test.

Our class was pretty competitive. So many people just THOUGHT they would pass and they didn't. I knew many were upset that I passed with over 1000 (850 was our passing score, too).

I passed because I bought Silvestri's NCLEX review book and I went through every single, solitary chapter in chunks before the test day came. I made sure I could pass with at least 90% on each section or I took it over again until I did.

Sure it's a lot of material, but you're supposed to review it. While a lot of people were sunning on spring break, I studied hard for three days of it and developed my immediate review plan (after the months--started in January and took HESI in March). I was fresh and ready to go.

I never felt sorry for it. I knew what I wanted (to pass) and I sought assistance on how to do that (they said review the questions). I did it and succeeded.

As for the others, only they can say why they failed. That's not your job to analyze it. They need to do that. A little self-reflection (or failure) never hurt anyone.