How To Be Arbitrarily Kicked Out of Nursing School

In some states, public display of a placenta by a nurse is punishable by death

Want to get kicked out of nursing school? Display a placenta on Facebook.

The shorter version of this story tells of a director of nursing named Jeanne Walsh arbitrarily booting a student named Doyle Byrnes (right) from the from the nursing program at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas only a few months short of graduation. Her heinous offence? She published on Facebook (with her instructor’s permission, mind you) a photograph of herself beside an anonymous placenta. In the letter of expulsion Walsh was brutal, yet undoubtedly fair — at least in her own mind. She wrote Byrnes: “Your demeanor and lack of professional behavior surrounding this event was considered a disruption to the learning environment and did not exemplify the professional behavior that we expect in the nursing program.”

I am mystified and not only by the Walsh’s evasive, accountability-shifting use of the passive voice. All I see here is an obviously excited, eager student with the “shiny shultz” side of the placenta showing in a tray.* Bad taste? Debatable. It’s certainly no worse than reality television. It’s not as though she’s swinging the thing around by the umbilical cord. Maybe instead of the contagious grin, she should be frowning at it slightly. Is there some gross violation of nurse-placenta confidentiality I’m missing?  What, did the placenta call to complain about its treatment?

Not Nurse Ratched had the best comment:

JCCC says it’s “a lesson hard learned.” Indeed, but not the one the school probably thinks it’s sending: the lesson is that nursing is filled with inexplicable decisions and finding out after the fact you did something Bad. This student can carry that lesson with her, but is it really one our nursing schools should be teaching? Can they not teach something more like “here’s an opportunity for education regarding healthcare and social media”?

Yep, indeedy, that pretty well sums up this school’s competency. No warning letter, no chance at remediation, just straight out the door. Nothing like grabbing the figurative axe for fixing a problem —  and incidentally demonstrating the nasty underbelly of nursing. Makes you wonder how this school reacts when a student actually does something serious.

So a few conclusions: first, Johnson County Community College’s nursing program is probably — well, let’s be kind and damn with faint praise: they do their very best, despite having no sense of proportionality — or humour. Second, higher degrees in nursing are evidently not guarantees of effective skills in either nursing education and administration. Third, we often talk about nurses eating their young. After seeing this story and hearing about others like it —  and it truly pains me to say this — I’m beginning to wonder if the source lies in nursing educators inculcating those old-fashioned nursing “values.” You know, the ones that say arbitrary and unjust behaviour, back-stabbing and treating nurses as expendable are acceptable. After all, isn’t this a classic example of how colleagues and superiors knee-cap young nurses and students?


*Note to AtYourCervix: I was not sleeping all the time during my Obs/Gyne rotation.


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  1. #1 by Jenn Jilks on Monday 03 January 2011 - 1131

    As a civilian, that is a dumb reason to get rid of what might have been a great nurse. To let her go, without letting her know or giving her a chance to correct the behaviour, is not a lesson at all. It is a punishment, not even a consequence. (You can tell I was a teacher!) Besides, you say she asked. My goodness.

    These are new technologies in social media, and there may be fine lines and no lines, and students, especially, must be taught. But I am not sure there *is* a lesson here. Social media is something personal between friends.

    What if she had put it in a blog?
    When my mom had her cancer tumours, she told me it was leukoplatia, no such thing.
    I searched and searched. Didn’t find out until later that it was leukoplakia… Mom had hearing deficits as well as cancer.

    For people looking for information, I’d like to have seen what a placenta looked like when I was pregnant the first time. Not the 2nd or 3rd, mind you!

    That’s what I think!
    /2 cents…

  2. #2 by Raquel on Monday 03 January 2011 - 1517

    There was NO patient information shared. When I first saw the headline, I thought there must be a privacy violation, but it truly is an anonymous placenta.
    These young women are just being a little goofy, letting off some steam in the stressful nursing school environment. Sadly, every nursing program I have heard about has its share of mean, authoritarian instructors and administrators.

  3. #3 by Vernon Dutton on Monday 03 January 2011 - 2128

    There is no disrespect or unusual display noted and the student is properly gloved and lifting the specimen so it can be seen just as it is done on countless medical education programs. The student had told her instructor her intention was to “share the experience on Facebook.” This same photograph could have been shown on the Opra or Dr Oz program highlighting the education of nursing students without a word being said.

    The school could have easily used the photograph in their own social media to promote the learning experiences being offered by them. The photograph could have been the spark needed to get students interested in anatomy to think about nursing.

    There are no identifiable markers – a placenta is a placenta and could now be identified to a specific patient only by extensive lab tests and without someone to match it to…..almost imposable. This was a lab specimen! Not to mention that unless the mother had a use for it, it would have been tossed out in a HazMat bag. If the school had not responded in a knee-jerk fashion, her post would have been a non-issue and posts all over the web would not be calling it a “HIPAA violation”

    The school should have had a social media policy in place but sice there wasn’t, when the student asked about photographs, the instructor should have discussed the students intentions to make sure the post was in good taste (which I think it was) There is room to share exciting learning experiences that are in good taste and that do not violate privacy.

    In my opinion, if the students suspension is not reversed it will limit many valuable learning opportunities that not only Facebook offers but social media in general – but there has to be social media policies in place for guidance and work from there.

    This post only becomes an issue when viewed with a distorted sense of what privacy and professional behavior is. Unfortunately this photograph was seen in the context of the worst of Facebook instead of the many positive posts found there.

  4. #4 by atyourcervix on Tuesday 04 January 2011 - 1041

    Not a HIPAA violation at all. And I’m glad to hear that you didn’t sleep through your OBGYN rotation in nursing school TorontoEmerg ;-)

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