Elite vs. not-so-elite universities

Here’s one possible difference:

Tonight I met a woman who’s the officer manager for a large dental practice. She told me when she gets resumes from Penn Dental grads, “I throw them right in the trash.”

Why? I asked, surprised. 

“Because they’re arrogant and lacking in empathy,” she said. “They went to dental school because their parents could pay cash and they think because they went to Penn, they’re infallible. We don’t like to work with them, and the patients hate them. Never again.

“I hire from Temple. The school is excellent, the students are highly motivated because they paid for it themselves and they knock themselves out for the patients.”

Whew! A class warrior after my own heart! I told her my recent experience with Penn’s clinic, and she just shook her head. “Why didn’t you go to Temple?” she said. Well, mostly because of the 6-to-12 month waiting list, I said.

“They’re good. That’s why you have to wait,” she said.

Have any of you seen this before?  I have heard similar stories, especially about towns with two or more medical schools, such as Baltimore with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland’s medical campus.  It pains me to read stories like Susie’s, as a graduate of Ben Franklin U. myself.  (Comments are of course open to rebuttals.)

0 thoughts on “Elite vs. not-so-elite universities

  1. Yeah, I’ve heard it before. My own resume includes an undergrad degree from a FancyPants college and an MD from a place agreed to be One Step Better Than Going Offshore. My parents paid cash for both, so I guess I’m a heartless, unempathic spoiled brat. I’m really glad that my patients don’t feel that way.

    Reminds me of my brother’s experience with his summer job in high school. My boyfriend’s parents owned an ice-cream shop and he applied for a job. They hired him. A month or so later, BF’s Mom told me she was amazed at what a good worker he was. Seems they only hired him to avoid pissing me off; they figured a doctor’s kid would be a spoiled brat.

    I’ve heard it all my life. It’s pissed me off all my life. Nothing new there.

    (and, for the record, since we’re playing anecdata anyway, the least empathic docs and trainees I’ve worked with are working-class folks who have made their own way through school. They look at the patients on Medicaid and say “My family doesn’t ask for charity, so why should I extend it to these people”?


  2. Sometimes there is a split within the school. My last two years of medicine were at a private med school with a certain number of well to do students. A group of us always opted for city hospital rotations. We got to do more procedures and I think the patients may have been more appreciative. I worked my way through med school as a lab tech. I have a feeling that most of the “city hospital” medical students were in the same boat- not from wealthy families. When in practice I had a large number of medicaid children. Perhaps some of my compassion was as a result of exposure to the indigent during training. Having said that, I have refered to specialists in large cities in ivory tower positions who were fantastic with families regardless of insurance. Often they had trained in high power programs in private hospitals. My medical school in NYC was thought of by the other schools as producing fine gentlemen and mediocre physicians.


  3. The office manager’s rant is satisfying, but (to be academic) there are lots of things mushed together here. I wonder if the key is the two dental schools. That is, I think the Yale Med School (from what I could tell from living in the same town) is pretty good about community outreach and training doctors who understand the larger social context of medicine– but they are the only game in town. And I also suspect it has far more to do with institutional culture than who pays for what. I’m sure there are some people whose parents pay for med school who are arrogant and rude to patients, there are others, like Jay, who are not.


  4. I avoid mentioning that I attended MIT for undergrad, because you can see the gears shifting in people’s heads when you mention it. I can’t count how many times people I’ve worked with for weeks or months will say, “You know, you’re really nice, not like an MIT graduate at all” — not that they’d ever met any besides me, but the Snooty MIT Engineer is quite a powerful myth.

    One summer when I and other students were interning at the same factor, the ones who were most likely to be both successful in their field and accepted by co-workers were either on financial aid and/or massive student loans. If you were capable of talking to the blue-collar guy making a part like he was a knowledgeable human being rather than a nuisance, you had a huge advantage. The guy raised on a farm was a natural, the first-college-kid-in-family guy was shy but friendly enough… the rich guys didn’t understand it at all, and ended up being less effective engineers as a result. Of course there was the occasional exception to the rule, but the trend was interesting.


  5. I think it’s actually the faculty who are more snobbish and class conscious — not the students. I had a job at a place more like Penn originally and left it for a place more like Temple because I could not stand the attitudes of my colleagues. I was really surprised by this because I had always studied at places more like Penn and had not found that attitude, either among faculty or among students.


  6. You know, I’m thinking about the fact that this is an office manager’s perspective…. and I’m wondering whether whether the perspective here has more to do with the fact that once they hired a Penn grad and the Penn grad treated the office manager and other non-dentists in the office shabbily. The whole, “the patients hate them” thing may, ultimately, be less about the patients and more about how things went once upon a time with somebody that the office staff and hygienists didn’t like.

    I know there are people in my area who show a similar prejudice in favor of grads from my institution vs. the higher profile institutions on the other side of town, but it’s totally not rooted in anything objective. In contrast, folks at the higher profile institutions treat me and my colleagues like we have the plague because we teach unwashed masses who just want to buy a degree. And then on the other hand, I know people who received their PhDs from high profile places need to work really hard to get hired where I work because you have to convince our faculty that you’re not a snob and that you really do want to work here, because there is the assumption going in that people from higher profile places wouldn’t touch my place with a ten-foot pole. Who the heck knows.


  7. On Dr. Crazy’s point–my wife (also a Ben Franklin PhD) had a related experience. She had people questioning her commitment to teaching on every one of her on-campus interviews, and lots of subtle questions about whether or not she “really” wanted a job at these state schools. But at one school, they openly admitted their preference for state school PhDs over Ivy League applicants, because they were better colleagues, more committed to teaching, etc.

    Of course, the person who admitted this also noted that they had one person on faculty who graduated from Harvard–and constantly reminded everyone he was from Harvard. He happened to be the least-liked person in the department. So they may have been generalizing from a small sample size.


  8. Sorry to have been out all day long–I’m a little taken aback by the comments here, which suggest that:

    1. It’s really tough to be the child of a physician,
    2. Office managers aren’t capable judges of character, and
    3. It’s really rough having an Ivy League Ph.D.

    I apologize for not linking to Susie’s earlier encounter at the Penn dental clinic, which I assumed she had linked (but she didn’t.) My bad–here it is.

    I am sure that there are some very compassionate, decent students in every dental and medical school, just as there are money-grubbing jerks everywhere too. I appreciate Grandoc’s observations on the complexity introduced by where one trains, which surely has as much or more of an impact on one’s sense of professionalism and professional responsibilities as one’s upbringing.


  9. My experience is somewhat different. (I relate to the natural and formal sciences.) It’s not the Penn people that have their noses bent out of shape but rather MIT, Harvard and, to a lesser degree, Stanford. Penn is the salt of the earth of the Ivy league and the royalty of universities.

    When hired at a mid level university, Penn people will work hard and adjust. The MIT people tend to leave.


  10. I should add, on the wisdom of office managers:

    Haven’t any of you had the experience of learning that a colleague or peer you thought was a really great guy actually treats subordinates (office staff, work-study students, etc.) badly? In my experience, the office staff of academic departments are really shrewd and they know a lot more about how the whole system works and who’s competent, who’s a slacker, who’s a jerk, and who’s likely to start hitting on students than most faculty know (or care to observe.)

    One of my favorite literary heroines of all time is the secretary to the (dean? Provost?) in Moo, Jane Smiley’s comedy of academic bad manners. Simply by deciding who gets to see which memos, and which phone messages get passed along and which don’t, she effectively controls the entire university.


  11. koshem bos: thanks for your vote of confidence in Penn grads!

    Erica’s an MIT person, and she’s cool. I don’t know too many MIT grads, but they always struck me as more serious about their work than most Ivy Leaguers. But this is all just anecdata, as Jay said above.


  12. Wow, things have changed at Penn Dental! I went there when I was in grad school: checkups, cavities filled, and wisdom teeth pulled. And I was treated courteously by everyone.

    My problem comes with being working class, having an unpronounceable surname, and graduating from Penn. When I was first out on the Great Job Hunt, I was finishing my dissertation while teaching a 4-4 courseload at a state university. During an interview at an elite private college, one of the students asked me how I thought I could teach students of higher caliber, since I was teaching at an open admissions school and was “ethnic.” At my last job at a state university in the state in which I was born, having attended an Ivy was used against me for being “uppity” when I questioned some departmental policy. Seems this person (who headed the search committee that hired me) thought that because I was working-class and “just regular” (his words) that I would be “easy to work with”–meaning that I would agree with everything he wished. Seems I was brainwashed by my Ivy League experience. This former colleague, known for his temper tantrums and outbursts and all-around unreasonableness, has been the reason several faculty members have left. Now including me. Damn that Penn degree!


  13. To be specific: I have only heard stories like this about the DENTAL school at Penn, not the medical school. I have had many, many positive experiences with Penn doctors, they’re very empathetic as a rule.

    The other point the office manager made was that most of the dental students were there because it was “the family business,” not because they really wanted to be dentists. (And yes, I did ask her if she had experience with more than one graduate. She said after a dozen similar experiences, she stopped hiring.)

    Another note: if you look at my comments, someone there said the dental school has changed a lot over the last decade or so, with three deans. They emphasized different things.


  14. My first grad. school house, room really, was almost literally next door to Penn Dental School. The building was a dump [since upgraded multiple times] and, in that heirarchies within heirarchies way that modern multiversities have, the dental school was itself to a large degree treated as a sort of lower end program. Compared to, say, semiotics or something like that. Their clinical practice seemed pretty indistinguishable socioeconomically from what I would imagine at Temple. How ironic, to go through all of that internal invidiousness, and then have to convince hiring screeners that you don/t really have a Wharton MBA addytood, as they say in Philly.

    In recent years, some dental faculty have been getting joint appointments in medical and even veterinary schools, so the life sciences seem to be converging. This might be changing internal heirarchies of status, with presumably mixed consequences for what people take into the workforce.


  15. Just to be clear, I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on the office manager’s perspective or judgment. I was just trying to discern where the person might have been coming from. I’ve worked in office staff situations, and had “doctors” (Ph.D.s, when I nearly had a Ph.D. myself) treat me like crap, and I watched those same individuals treat other people like crap, too. But does that mean that every person who went to school where they did treats people like crap? I don’t think that way, but maybe I’m wrong.

    I suppose I commented as I did because I wonder about just throwing out applications from all individuals from certain institutions (whether elite or non), on the assumption that “all people” from that institution are the same. Even if you saw that 50 such individuals were awful historically, it doesn’t mean that every person with a degree from a certain institution should be thrown out without review. If that were how people where I work thought, I wouldn’t have been interviewed, what with my fancy doctoral institution on my cv. (Though, as it was, I did have to make a case for myself as “real people” who could hang at this institution, more of a case than I’d have had to make if I’d gotten my PhD at a more local state university.)

    And I’d say the exact same thing in reverse: about people just throwing the applications out of candidates who came from lower-caliber institutions. Example: I got my B.A. at a place people typically refer to as “Can’t Read? Can’t Write? Kent State,” and I teach at a place known locally as “No Knowledge University.” What if people were unilaterally throwing those applications out? Based on reputation/experience with some previous hires from those institutions? I think that’s uncool, too.


  16. Penn Dental was a dump, plain and simple. There were big patches of mold and plaster flaking from the vaulted ceiling, a lot of the equipment doesn’t work (my student couldn’t get the water to turn off and it was spraying everywhere, creating puddles on the floor), and I saw several pieces of equipment held together with tape. I was a little surprised, since Penn is such an expensive school.

    Temple, by contrast, was in much better shape and the equipment, while probably not new, was very well-maintained.

    I asked the student working on me why it was in such bad shape, and she muttered something about how they didn’t have the space to move everyone out while they remodeled.

    Let me also say that the procedures cost much more at Penn than they did at Temple. When I mentioned that to my student, she insisted they charged the same as Temple – “half of what you’d pay in private practice.” I told her no, that $550 root canal was $330 at Temple. She refused to believe me.

    At Temple, they told me they charged only for materials, not the actual work. At Penn, the “half of private practice” rule was mentioned several times in my three visits.


  17. I’ll also note that where I was coming from was particularly from that office staff experience: those people treated me and my peers (the other women in the office) like crap, but I don’t think that they treated their patients like crap. I think they *just* treated office staff like crap, just like some professors treat their students just fine but they treat the office staff like crap. Now, this might not be true for those dentists in that office manager’s experience, but I can also see where if I were being treated like crap (in a job that I wasn’t leaving in a few months in order to start a tenure-track job) that I might project my feelings about how I was being treated onto the patients.


  18. This topic is a little too redolent of confirmation bias for my tastes.

    Something to think about, perhaps?

    (Love the blog by the way! Long time listener, first time caller.)


  19. Well, I got my buttons pushed and came out with my privilege flags flying. Sorry. And on my first time here, too.

    I was trying to make the point that Dr. Crazy made much more succinctly and less grumpily. I’m sure the office manager was right about the jerks she had to work with. No question that shit rolls downhill, and far too many of my colleagues treat their staffs like crap even if they treat patients decently. Too many don’t treat the patients decently as well.

    I’ve been tagged with both ends of this assumption, as has Dr. Crazy. Some people assume I’m a snot because my undergrad degree comes from HoityToity U. Some people assume I’m an idiot because my MD is from Barely Made It In Medical School. I’m sure some people from those schools fit into those categories, but I don’t think I do.


  20. Uh-oh, the Baltimore comment is making me a little nervous. I’m planning on living near Penn Station for an easy commute when I return to B’more, and so I assumed I would be going to Hopkins for my doctoring needs. But then I also assumed they’d be fairly kind and empathetic, because the UIowa medical center has doctors who are amazingly good at talking with patients. Hmm.


  21. Judith, as I recall, the JHU medical campus and hospital are way far away from Penn station (and nowhere near the Homewood campus, either.) You’ll actually be closer to the UMAB facilities. But in any case, there are physicians all over Baltimore who have been trained in/at various institutions. I’m sure you’ll be able to find good care there.


  22. I’ve never understood anyone who’s snotty or abusive towards office staff or, indeed, any support staff. Those are THE people who will help you process documents, contact internal or external support services, and get your work (or studies, in the case of academia) accomplished smoothly — to treat them poorly is to metaphorically shoot yourself in the foot. Judging a co-worker by their pay-grade or “importance”, rather than the fact that they’ve often worked there for 10-20 years and could do the job in their sleep and know extremely valuable tricks and shortcuts, is extremely shortsighted.


  23. I’m of two minds on the story. I went to prestigious schools my whole college career and when I applied to teach “back in the neighborhood” my applications were either ignored or I was told repeatedly that “people like me” wouldn’t understand how to teach or mentor “people like their students.” I was even told by one uni that “You’re app was everyone’s favorite but it won’t be worth it for you to come teach here. People like you don’t do well here and leave in 1-2 years.” Both my parents had graduated from said school as had more than 1/2 of my high school friends. But you know, “people like me” are all affluent, snobby, and complete out of touch with the realities of working class people of color right?!?

    On the other hand, when I used to run a program whose labor was 90% MA students from local area colleges, we definitely picked students from the cheaper, “lower ranked,” state schools over the private ones after years of having the private school kids show up and act like they were too good for the work we needed done or worse like they ran the place talking down to both staff and clients.

    I really see it as a failure of training more than a universal.


  24. I discussed this today with my niece’s husband, who graduated from Penn Dental ten years ago. He listened to everything I said and didn’t say much at first; my son then made a comment about “don’t pay any attention, you know how Mom is.”

    The dentist interrupted my son and said, “Everything your mother says is spot on.” He told me he hated the Penn instructors, most of them were “arrogant assholes” who passed along that attitude to his patients, and noted that far too many Penn Dental grads only cared about money because they graduated owing about 300K. (He also said they graduated with far too little clinical experience. I said the high prices at the clinic had a lot to do with that.)

    We discussed the politics of healthcare reform and he talked about how most dentists wouldn’t accept government insurance – in fact, a lot of them won’t accept any insurance at all, he said. He says he’d have to treat five times as many insurance patients in a day to make up the amount he’d make treating private, cash-paying patients.

    When I asked, however, he did say if the government forgave student loans in exchange for them accepting public patients, it would make all the difference in the world.


  25. Susie–thanks for your update and more information. I’m sorry that your nephew-in-law had such a negative experience at Penn Dental. I think his comments suggest another big problem that health care reform should tackle: the huge private debt that so many doctors and dentists must undertake now to get their medical and dental educations. With that kind of debt, it’s understandable that many students feel they must take the highest-paying job they can (and so much for Pro Bono work, or medicaid/medicare patients, or volunteer work at clinics, etc.) By making medical education a private credential rather than a public good, we’re practically begging physicians and dentists to look out only for #1.


  26. Yes, we need to address the debt – it also drives practitioners into fields and practice areas they don’t really like because they pay better. Debt also forces people to work more than is good for them.

    Not excuses – it’s still our job to treat people decently.

    Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, I also want to add to the last statement of my first comment that some of the most empathetic docs I’ve know have also been working-class folks. I just don’t think you can make advance judgment about empathy based on someone’s background.


  27. Jay, I agree.

    This conversation reminds me of an interview I heard with Lani Guenier probably 10 years ago. She was talking about how the SAT was a poor judge of who succeeded in college. Part of her evidence was based on a survey of Harvard alumns who were successful on Harvard’s terms: they were generous donors to Harvard. What were the two greatest predictors of this kind of success? According to Guenier (via Harvard), 1) working-class background and 2) poor grades freshman year. So by Harvard’s own research and definition of success, it should admit only people from working-class backgrounds who do poorly freshman year. (But that ain’t gonna happen!)

    Sometimes assumptions about class are just about the opposite of what you’d expect. I think class intersects with a number of other factors, race, gender, urban/rural, etc. that determine a professional’s altruism (or lack thereof.)


  28. You know what’s funny about all this?

    In Philly (where I presume the office manager resides…if even a burb), Temple (in general) has a more common rep for being where the dumb regional kids go to school. [Which, sadly, is sorta true.]

    It’s nice to see this idea sort of inverted at the Dental School level, but it strikes me funny nonetheless.

    But isn’t anyone else a little shocked the resumes are being circular-filed without even a casual perusal by someone in charge of hiring? Or is an office manager now the person who selects dentists for the office?

    And no one sees the inherent discrimination in the office manager’s stereotyping of ALL Penn dentists coming from wealth and ALL Temple dentists “paid for it themselves”???

    Just another form of classism…

    P.S. While I was not a Dental School student, I did live in Philly for about 13 years, attended both Temple and Penn…and even taught at both Temple and other Philly Uni Drexel. I have a bit more experience to speak to this than many.


  29. I graduated from Temple Dental in 1968. My roommate at Temple was accepted at Penn but could not afford the tuition at Penn. Three of my classmates did their postgraduate work and taught at Penn. I owned and operated a large dental practice in central Connecticut until my retirement in 2012. I hired dozens of dentists over the years, Penn, Temple, NYU, Tufts, SUNY, Harvard, UConn, Buffalo to name a few. I found there to be zero correlation between where a person went to school and professional competency. I had a partner for 15 years who graduated from Penn. A pediatric dentist who worked in my office for twenty years was a Penn graduate. . My dentist, in Florida, is a graduate of South Carolina. He is very talented. Personally, I think I was served well at Temple. Unlike the Ivy’s I was able to engage with a broad spectrum of ambitious kids from middle and working class families. They were very grateful for the opportunity Temple afforded them.

    PS. The dumb regional kids did not get past their freshman year.


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