Tuesday, 10 May 2016

In praise of older women

When Dau.I and Dau.II were tots, a discussion started about what would they be when they grew up. One of them suggested being a nurse and their mother asked why not rather be a doctor. "Oh no, Mammy, I'm a girl, girl's can't be doctors"
Some patient Socratic method ensued:
"Now, Doctor Farrell, whom we visited on Tuesday; she's a woman isn't she?"
And although they understood the reasoning with their little heads, their role-models and exemplars didn't really change until much later.

Now what about Pharmacy Technicians? the people-persons in the starched white uniforms who take money for your suppositories and advise you about sunscreen. Are they men or women? I am rarely in the pharmacy now, since I cleared up my head-lice and pinworms, but my sense is that most workers in this part of the retail sector are women. The Pharmacist, in the dispensary behind the behind the counter, that might be either sex, but the ladies at the public coal-face are, well, ladies. Since I started at The Institute three-and-a-half years ago, I've been teaching human physiology to folks who aspire to a Certificate in Pharmacy Technician. In a class of thirty, there have never been more than 3 men.

Last Thursday, I was doing Mature Student Interviews [like last year] for a free lunch. Actually, I try to do whatever is available or needs doing: life is dull without something different to engage the mind.  I looked down the list: a couple of dozen candidates and only two blokes. I'm all for blokes in HumPhys class, it makes it a little more relevant when I come to talk about vasectomies. Each person came with a transcript saying what they have for academic qualification, when they left school, where they've been since and what they are doing currently. We tend to zero in on the mathematics, and to a lesser extent chemistry, and we are usually disappointed. Making decisions about whether to offer someone a place is usually straight-forward: I don't want to teach people who don't really want to get through, however little they know to start with. On the other side, it is unfair to take the fees from people who are going to experience intellectual hard-ship for two years and fail at the end of it.

One of the candidates, who was currently working in a pharmacy but wanted a more formal qualification, professed to be fascinated by human physiology. I pointed to my chest, saying that was my course in first year and added "I bet you know where your pancreas is". To which she replied "Of course" and pointed in the right direction. Two others, one having looked after her elderly and bed-ridden mother for many years and another who was a care-assistant in an Alzheimer's clinic, had built up a lot of experience in practical pharmacology.  The had noticed what happened when Mr Kelly forgot his meds or when the well-meaning but inexperienced doctor changed the prescription. The first lecture in my HumPhys course is an 'inspiring' [I hope] chat called Alert in the Pharmacy suggesting that watching trends in the clients might let them, humble but curious PTs, expose the next thalidomide debacle.

The third person in was a young man. We were favourably disposed towards his Y chromosome for gender balance. He didn't seem particularly happy to be there but my colleague settled him down and asked him to say what he hoped to get from the course.  In turn I asked him if he had any apprehensions about the maths because he'd flunked his Leaving Certificate at Ordinary Level several year before. "Well, to be honest, I am a bit worried about the maths but I've been drink-free for 16 months now and seem to be holding my own on that"  That was far too much information for the situation and didn't answer the question.  At The Institute, I've had to deal with all sorts of trouble among the students: mid-term child-care, car crashes, demented parents, delinquent children, dead friends. I think we are compassionate, understanding and flexible; but I don't think we are qualified to support people who are already drowning. We marked him down as "No" and hope that The Suits won't sweep him up in their desire to fill places and the coffers.

The next applicant turned up all sunny and ready for anything. She also had flunked maths at the age of 17. But when I asked about how she proposed to master maths in college with such doubtful qualifications she replied [I paraphrase] "I was really off my trolley back then, the maths teacher was crap, I was interested in other things and I pissed away the easy option".  She'd been in the work-place for the last 6 years, the last two in a community pharmacy, and she was now ready to develop a career in that sector so she really needed the Certificate. And she didn't think that the maths was going to be rocket science - not from her experience in the shop; and an earlier course in book-keeping; and her cousin was a maths teacher. Life isn't fair so we made her an offer. She reminded me of Lynn Ruane [prev] who also booted school, but became President of the Student's Union in TCD and was last month given a seat in Seanad √Čireann.

Altogether me and my colleague spoke to about a dozen women (and the unhap chap), they were all older women as it was Mature Student Interviews but that just means not a school leaver: 23 years old qualifies.  They almost all had something extraordinary about them, something interesting, some experience that they brought to the table.  Lord knows why they want to do Pharm Tech, although they all tried to explain its attractions often in quite distinct terms.  I was delighted to help open the door to opportunity. Some will doubtless fail the exams in Human Physiology in May next year, but I'm absurdly optimistic now that I'll get them all over the hump.
In praise of older women?
A book by Istv√°n Vizinczey aka Stephen Vizinczey

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