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“ADHD Helps Me Be a Better Nurse”

Despite a rocky childhood, one woman learned to turn her ADHD challenges into ADHD superpowers — and embarked on the nursing career she always dreamed of.

The hat of a nurse with ADHD
White hate with blue cross, nurse hat

Impulsive. Frustrated. Unmotivated. Sad. Discouraged. Dejected. A failure. This is how I described myself as a child and teen, before I was diagnosed with ADHD, at age 19. To know, finally, that there was a cause for the symptoms I had struggled with for so long was comforting. Knowing the “why” led to treatment, which led to the “how” I would accomplish my goal of being a nurse. Happy, successful, determined, ambitious, goal-oriented, calm, and clear — these words describe me today, as an adult with ADHD.

The Early Challenges

My elementary school years were challenging. I couldn’t fall asleep at night, couldn’t sit still for 20 minutes, and interrupted others. I had a tutor in every subject. My self-confidence declined.

People who knew me as a child didn’t know that I disliked myself so much, because of the facade I wore. The demons of a scattered brain emerged at night. I could not sleep because my brain couldn’t settle down. It was a vicious cycle that continued for years.

[Your Free Guide to Choosing Your Ideal Career]

It was hard to be my friend in elementary, middle, and high school. I was fun, but I could be needy, hyperactive, and moody. I prayed to God — I begged Him — to help me be calm and smart, and to control my impulsivity. My prayers felt unanswered as I struggled academically and socially.

The Turning Point

College started off like a party. The newfound freedom and the lack of structure made a recipe for disaster. I flunked out before the end of my freshman year. That was a turning point. My parents knew how much I wanted to be a nurse, and how much I wanted to be a success, so they had me evaluated. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD and treated with medication. I started my school career over with a positive attitude. The medication helped me cope and succeed.

I was determined that nothing would stop me. I took classes at the local community college and never missed one. I typed my lecture notes daily. Repetition was the key to helping me remember the information. After transferring to a university, I graduated with honors with my B.S. degree in nursing in 1995. I practiced as a nurse, got married, and worked part time while attending graduate school. I received my master’s degree in science with a 3.9 average.

Still a Struggle

At 44 years old, I still struggle with ADHD symptoms. However, I see ADHD as an asset. The abilities to hyperfocus and multitask are positive uses for my ADHD energy. I still impulsively send emails or make phone calls that I later regret, fail to complete a task on time, and leave my ATM card in the machine. I need reminders, to-do lists, and Post-it notes to get through the day.

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On the other hand, I am empathetic, creative, bright, happy, and I have a foolproof memory. I can remember license plate numbers and hundreds of medical facts. I can recite a Shel Silverstein poem, “Sick,” that I learned in the third grade. I attribute all of these gifts to the superpowers of ADHD.

I tapped into those superpowers recently. While getting ready to pull away from the gate on a flight, I saw a man in the first row stand up, pale as a sheet, sweating profusely and in distress. My brain kicked into overdrive, and I told a flight attendant that I was an advance practice cardiology nurse, and that I suspected the man was having a cardiac event. A minute later, after she had walked to the front to investigate, a panicked voice came over the intercom: “The nurse! In 23B! To the front of the plane. Now!”

I shot out of my seat and was at the man’s side in an instant. I assessed the patient, asked him questions, and helped calm his frantic wife. The plane returned to the gate, and by the time the paramedics had arrived, I had him stabilized. I later found out the man had a serious heart condition, and I had helped save his life. I believe I couldn’t have done this without the gifts my ADHD gave me.

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  1. kudos to your parents for looking to solutions when blame was so much closer.
    Kudos to you for trusting that instinct and leaping into action when so many of your colleagues would have avoided any contact for fear of blame and lawsuits,
    Kudos to you also for sharing this with us. A reminder of all those good things we receive from our gift.

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