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Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Just Wish I Knew Where She Works

Willie and I proctored a test Saturday morning.

Have you proctored? Oh, my dear, you simply must.

Actually, it’s a rather dull affair, one involving sitting in a large room with a large number of people. They’re taking a test, you’re reading a book, and the four hours positively fly by.

I’ve been proctoring certification testing for nurses and other healthcare professionals for well over 10 years now; and I would say that 98% of the people taking these tests are mature, intelligent human beings. These are people who have studied, who follow directions, who stand a good chance of passing the test and gaining a certification of expertise in, say, nephrology, dermatology, or sexual assault victims.

And then there’s the other 2%.

There’s someone like Melba.

Melba’s test was for certification in hemodialysis. It takes three hours; and at the three-hour mark, Willie approached her.

Melba (not her real name) did not show outward signs of idiocy until “time” had been called.

“I’ll have to take your test booklet,” he said.

But could she keep the answer sheet? she wanted to know. She had filled in the part asking for her name and other identifiers – but had not blackened in the little circles that corresponded with those letters or numbers. Could she have time to do that?

Sure, sure. What do we care? The test is over, we have the booklet, and we’ll be here for another hour while one last woman, who had four hours rather than three due to its being a different certification, finishes up.

For 20 minutes we watched Melba chew the end of her pencil and stare at her answer sheet. Willie and I raised our eyebrows at each other. How tough could it be to blacken in your circles?

You remember those test answer sheets, don’t you? Spelling out “P-E-A-R-L” and then blackening in the circles underneath, the little circle with the “P” in it, then the little circle with the “E” in it…

When she finally brought her answer sheet to the front of the room, the problem was clear: the front page of the answer sheet – name, address, identifying numbers – was a smudged lead-pencil mess, every available circle blackened.

The back side of the sheet was completely untouched.

She had never noticed that there was a back page. She had never flipped it over and of course had run out of answer space.

So rather than raise her hand and ask?

She had, somehow, determined that she would just keep “answering” questions, blackening in the circles with no regard to the number of the question.

Almost every single available circle on the front side of the answer sheet had been filled in.

From my table at the front of the room, I could do nothing but stare as she began to make excuses: She had almost been in an accident on the way to the test site (almost four hours earlier). She had been confused. Could she take it again? When could she take it again? Could she take it again right now?

What? There were almost 60 people in this room over three hours ago. They were all but two gone now, and she wants to re-take the test?

The woman is talking, loudly. The sole test taker in the room looks up, panicked.

“Ma’am,” I whisper. “There’s a test taker still working. Please lower your voice.”

“Oh, yes,” she says and then continues to talk. She didn’t know there was a back side of the answer sheet. She did the best she could. Could she re-take it? Was there another test coming? Could she retake it now?

I reminded her several times that there was a woman still taking the test, to keep her voice down, that we were only here to give the test and could not make decisions about the test itself, that I didn’t know when the next one was and that no, she couldn’t retake it right now.

“But I didn’t know. I was confused.”

“Ma’am,” I whispered. “We just give the test. I can’t help you. Time’s up.”

Melba shut her mouth abruptly and turned and walked out.

Willie and I just shook our heads.

Hours later, I’m still confused and have many questions. How could she pay for a test, listen to the 15 minutes’ worth of instruction at the start, and not turn the answer sheet over? How did she think her answer sheet was going to be scored?

And perhaps the most important question: where does she work and who is supervising her?


IB said...

This story makes me want to lock the door and curl up under a blanket.

Nicolasa said...

Wow... just WOW!

the fly in the web said...

So that's where the woman who cocked up my husband's plasmapheresis went to......

Barbara Blundell said...

HI Pearl,
Perhaps Melba thought that hemodialysis is another name for Bingo and she was after a full house

mbuna53 said...

I am amazed from time to time by students doing stupid things during a test. I guess they do not want to ask a question because they think they will look stupid.

Beth said...

Holy cow. She was more than confused.

Douglas said...

The last question in the piece sums it up perfectly and suggests just how bad our health care system is and will likely get.

Amber Star said...

I just hope like everything I never need hemodialysis, and she isn't the idiot who does it.

I really respect nurses and those who handle our many tests and do them right and the results make sense. For the others, well, I guess that is why there is malpractice insurance.

Jayne Martin said...

They walk among us... and they vote. Although in this case, it (blessedly) doesn't sound like she'd be competent enough to actually mark the ballot.

ellen abbott said...

There is no bottom to the depth of humanity's stupidity. How did we ever got this far?

Kate Coveny Hood said...

That's incredible. I'm speechless.

Linda said...

It's scary that she got far enough to actually take the test! I hope she rethinks her career choice.

SweetPeaSurry said...

Another brilliant question, how had she NOT taken a standarized test before? Home schooling? Perhaps that should be a home school course? "Our next topic kids, is how to take a rediculous state-mandated standardized test"

Really? How does one go through 12 or more years of school and NOT take one of those? SAT's anyone? ACT's? HULLO?

SUEB0B said...

That is amazing. And scary.

The Retired One said...

That scares me even more because I am a nurse (or was before I retired!) (Once a nurse, always a nurse, I say!)
How on earth did she get this far?
How does she put her pants on by herself?

♥ Braja said...

I thought proctoring sounded like some kind of invasive examination, until I read this.

Then I knew.

powdergirl said...

Hah, excellent choice of names, Pearl.
I knew a Melba once.

And I remain convinced that she was named for the little pieces of dried bread they call 'melba toast'

She was exactly that smart.

Warty Mammal said...

There is a story here. The good news is that we'll never know how it ends.

recipes for the life said...

Will she be still allowed to do haemodylasis?... please say no.

Pearl said...

As The Retired One said, how does she put her pants on by herself?

I have no idea.

Honestly, I don't know if the certification testing was for people who are already doing hemodialysis or for those who wish to up their credentials and earning ability. I have to believe it's the former. Anyone too stupid to turn the sheet of paper over frankly has no business being in the room when this sort of thing is going on. It's not like she was a young woman -- she was easily in her 40s, perhaps older.

Just think: she scored a 0. Zero. Who scores a zero?!

Shook my head all day on this one.

Irisheyes said...

Apparently she has never taken the MMPI exam before either, which someone may want to suggest as her NEXT exam.

Douglas said...

Not to change the tone of all this (nor to nullify my earlier comment) but I have known people who were functionally illiterate who could perform complex and critical tasks. I like to think I am smart, you know, but I was really only clever with tests.