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By Vanessa Santilli

A disproportionate number of nursing students have been bringing their academic concerns to the Ryerson Students’ Union.

“There’s been a trend for quite some time that the nursing department has the highest level of appeals,” says VP education Rebecca Rose. “Last semester, fourth years had the highest amount and I believe they came from one specific class.”

In the nursing program, students can fail the year if they don’t pass their clinical placement, which is graded by a faculty advisor on a pass or fail basis. Students can also fail the year if they fail a core course then.

Kim Neale, student issues and advocacy co-ordinator, cannot comment on the nature of the appeals unless all students involved give their permission.

“The majority of my understanding from friends and people that I’ve spoken with is that the issues come out of practice classes,” says Robert Fraser, VP of the Nursing Course Union.

But Kileen Tucker-Scott, director of the nursing school, says that the program typically has very few appeals.

In the fall semester, she says, there were only seven appeals.

“Seven out of well over 4,000 students; clearly, it’s a very small number of appeals.”

In their final year, nursing students are required to work at a clinical placement for 16 hours a week in first semester and 32 hours in second semester.

“We have a faculty advisor that is an actual employee of the school but we are not doing the clinical placement with them,” Fraser says. “We work independently with a clinical preceptor. And that’s the reason students can be appealing because the progress you’ve made in that course isn’t judged fairly.”

The clinical preceptor fills out an evaluation form on how students performed and the faculty advisor takes that into consideration, Fraser says.

“There is no formula for grading in clinical,” he adds. “There are certain criteria, but if a faculty advisor decides one of the criteria was not sufficient for them then a student may fail; regardless of how well a student actually preformed in practice or exceeded expectations in other areas.”

A graduating nursing student, who prefers not to be named, says that a failed clinical placement isn’t always the fault of a student.

“Sometimes it comes down to this myth about the crazy clinical instructor, who is a faculty member,” she says. “They really hold a lot of power over you. In nursing culture there’s this feeling — and there’s been research done around it — called ‘nurses eat their young.’”

This refers to the idea that more experienced nurses are generally unsupportive in their interactions with new graduate nurses and nursing students.

Victoria Gaudite, a fourth-year nursing student, says she has a friend who went through the appeals process due to failing a core class.

“If a student fails one core course then the student would have to repeat all the other nursing core courses which are the co-requisites,” she says. “That is a big motivation for students to go through the academic appeal process,” she said.

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