Win with ADHD: Joanne Griffin

Years of ADHD setbacks didn’t stop this determined animal lover from pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

Joanne Griffn: Doglover and Veterinarian
Joanne Griffn: Doglover and Veterinarian

Mathematics has been torture for JoAnne Griffin since she was in third grade. “My classes were so overwhelming, I remember staring at the classroom doorknob, wanting to run away. So I did. I just left school and walked home one day,” she says. She eventually returned to school, but she struggled to finish high school because she failed algebra.

Though she had been diagnosed with ADHD at age seven, her treatment was ineffective. Young Griffin found solace in training her dogs, spurring a desire to become a veterinarian one day.

Griffin enrolled in college to make that happen. She studied hard to achieve excellent grades, but a general chemistry course that required math skills undid her. She failed the course and walked away from school again.

With typical ADHDer resilience, she made a new plan: to move to California and enroll at UC San Diego, majoring in psychology and animal behavior. Almost immediately, she became bored, so she changed her major to theater/cinema. Taking classes in dance, singing, and acting led to her next adventure: delivering singing telegrams and singing in nightclubs.

All the while, Griffin and her dogs racked up obedience awards. Her Shetland sheepdog, Jazz, was the No. 1- ranked sheltie in the U.S. in 1983; her other sheltie, Scat, was ranked No. 1 nationally in 1996. On the heels of her success, Griffin started an indoor training facility called Camera One Canine Actors, which trains dogs to perform in movies, television, and commercials.

But Griffin didn’t give up her dream. She went back to vet school in 2000. When she returned, she was re-diagnosed with ADHD, started taking stimulant medication, and sought accommodations. She hired friends to tutor her in math, physics, and chemistry.

“I applied to 13 veterinary schools and was accepted by four of them without earning a bachelor’s degree,” she says. She loved working with animals, but she had trouble with some of the professors. “One of them told me that, if I had ADHD, I shouldn’t be allowed in vet school.”

Griffin graduated in 2010, but her ordeal wasn’t over. She had to pass the national and California state veterinary boards, which has the toughest examination in the U.S. Griffin failed the test twice, before scoring 96 out of 100 in 2013. She had spent 13 years working toward her dream.

What kept her going? “I’ve always been stubborn and determined,” she says with a laugh. “I’m a Taurus, and that sign is known for being stubborn. I just don’t give up.” It might also be a little bit of ADHDer tenacity.