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"This is harder than med school!"

February 27, 2015 3:23 PM | ACHE Home Office (Administrator)
Written by Terry Ratcliff, one of our February guest authors. Do you have a story to tell? Let us know!

Terry Ratcliff

Whenever I get the chance, I enjoy teaching a ‘transition’ course. Many of you probably have a similar course in your adult program. They’re intended to help ‘post-traditional’ students acclimate to their new role as working adult learners. In my previous position, I had the opportunity to teach this course to students in the first semester of their enrollment, and then also to stand on the stage at commencement and read the names of our graduates as they shook hands with the president. The growth and development I observed in our students between points A and B was amazing, and I must admit that I choked up as a few of the names crossed my lips. Watching that transformation is one of the greatest rewards for me in this profession.

For those who know me, it comes as no surprise when I say that I like to tell a lot of stories when I teach (I like to tell a lot of stories in just about any venue!). One story that I tell early in the transition course is intended to let students know that they are not alone in their angst about returning to college. And it’s one that students actually remember. Here’s what I tell them:

Earlier in my career, I accepted a new job that required me to relocate to a new city on my own, leaving my family behind for a few months until my kids were out of school. A friend who lived in the new city invited me to occupy an empty room in his house while I acclimated and found a permanent place to live. We had kept touch while I was in graduate school in the Southwest and he was in medical school at Yale. That relationship continued as our careers developed. We both had done well. He was recently divorced, and his three school-aged children would come spend most weekends with him. He was going through other major transitions in his life at the time, selling his medical practice and returning to graduate school to complete a counseling degree in order to pursue a new passion. During the six weeks I stayed with him, we had several conversations about major life events, adult education, and balancing professional, educational, and personal lives.

Time went by, and I found a house and my family arrived. Fall semester was well underway when I thought of my friend and decided to give him a call. I asked him how things were going, balancing work, time with family, and school work. He told me, “You know, we talked a lot about adult students, and all the balls they have to keep juggling in addition to being in school, but I’ve gotta tell you, this is harder than Med School!!”

So, I tell my students, “the next time you are struggling to get a paper done, juggling your daughter’s soccer game and your son’s band concert, remember: this is harder than YALE MEDICAL SCHOOL.”

I also tell this story to new faculty during orientation and training sessions. We need to remember, our class is not necessarily the first priority for most of our students, and we need to respect that. Over the years, both students and instructors have told me about times when they were reminded of the challenges my friend shared with me, and how it has helped them deal with situations that have arisen for them.

So, the next time you are talking to an overwhelmed adult learner or a frustrated faculty member, tell them the story of my friend and see if it helps put things in perspective for them as it has for many of my students and colleagues.

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