On Campus

Saint Mary’s nurse tired of excuse notes

Professors clog up clinic with students who may not be ill


Jane Collins is a very dedicated campus nurse. So dedicated, in fact, that she offers her cell phone number to students at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax so she can advise them after hours. She picked up on the first ring when Maclean’s On Campus called to find out whether she’d really stopped writing sick notes for those who show up to the campus health clinic, as reported by CBC.

She hasn’t entirely but says that, after 19 years on the job, she’s fed up that professors still ask students to get excuse notes for missed midterms, which is often a waste of time. The registrar has twice asked deans to pass that message along to professors but it’s not getting through.

In the busy post-midterm period, she has had to book off an hour a day just to write sick notes.

“Students I’m seeing come in saying, ‘I was sick two or three weeks ago and if you don’t give me a note I’m going to fail my [mid-term] exam,'” she says, “putting it all on my shoulders.”

Like professors and doctors, she suspects some are lying but has no way of knowing for sure.

“I wrote a note for one this morning,” she says, referring to a repeat customer who came in three times with the same seemingly-fixable complaint, which she said occurred 10 days ago. All Collins wrote was, “student states that she was ill; she was not seen at student health.” How useful is that?

“I’ll have students call me late at night and say, ‘I’ve been throwing up all night, I have an exam tomorrow, can you write me a note?'” she says. “I’m thinking, well, I don’t want to be too jaded but I have no way to know you’re throwing up. I can’t ask you to bring in a sample of vomit.”

She doesn’t want students with stomach flu coming in anyway, as they might infect others.

Collins emphasizes there are legitimately sick people who have documented anxiety or depression with campus counseling and she’s happy to write them notes. Others may be referred to doctors. For now though, many will be sent off-campus to walk-in clinics, which charge for sick notes.

She’s hoping to spark a change of culture on campus.

“It all comes down to the professor being responsible and saying, ‘you missed an exam, here’s a make-up,'” she says, “or the student studying even though they have three exams in two days.”

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