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Eureka moment

Spring nursing graduate embraces her disability and finds her voice

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring 2018 convocation ceremonies.

By Marcia Porter

Approaching the middle of her second year at Memorial’s School of Nursing, new spring graduate Kathleen White was just about fed up.

In spite of the countless hours she put in studying, the St. John’s native could barely keep up with her work and worried about failing out of her bachelor of nursing program.

“It was so frustrating,” said Ms. White. “I always knew I was capable, but things got so difficult in my second semester and I felt so stupid, I really did. It really undercuts your confidence and diminishes your self-esteem after struggling for so long and not knowing what is going on.”

Telltale symptoms

Her eureka moment came during a regular day in a community nursing class, while she and her fellow students were researching how the drug Adderall is typically used and misused.

The drug is commonly prescribed for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to help manage symptoms commonly associated with the condition.

“It would take 20 minutes just to leave the house.” — Kathleen White

Symptoms can include a lack of organization, poor memory and difficulty staying focused; it’s a disability that interferes with the ability to learn and study.

“When I looked up the symptoms of ADHD, I said, ‘Oh, I do this, and this, I do all of that.’ The things listed were things that I had struggled with for a long time,” said Ms. White.

“The way I explain it is that, with ADHD comes poor memory. You put your camera down or your keys and wonder where you put them and run around the house just trying to find them. Then I’d find them and not remember even being in that room. It would take 20 minutes just to leave the house.”

Pushed to the brink

You might think this a-ha moment would have been a huge relief.

Rather than see her doctor for an official diagnosis, though, Ms. White kept the information to herself. She says she didn’t want to take on any perceived stigma of an ADHD diagnosis, along with everything else.

Eventually, the situation forced itself. One day, she was in her pathophysiology class and realized she had reached her limit.

“I was working so hard and got help from my professor and still I couldn’t get the A I wanted. That was my breaking point.”

It was then Ms. White made the decision to see her doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Nursing graduate stands next to IV unit in school of nursing
After graduation, Kathleen White will begin her nursing career in Grand Bank on the Burin Peninsula, where she will alternate between emergency and long-term care at the local health centre.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“Once I wrote my first mid-term after being diagnosed and receiving medication, I left and cried tears of joy,” she said. “It was the first test that I’d written where I was able to go the whole way through the test in chronological order without jumping around. I could never do that before.”

On Friday, June 1, Ms. White will cross the stage during convocation ceremonies at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre to pick up her bachelor of nursing degree.

‘Give them a voice’

Ever since her diagnosis, Ms. White has been on a mission to encourage other students with disabilities. She points out that Memorial offers support to students with disabilities, citing the Glenn Roy Blundon Centre for Students with Disabilities as one of the resources that helped her manage her academics.

“If I can do it, then you can too,” she said. “I want to remind students with disabilities that they can be capable and competent nurses. And I want to give them a voice because some people are not as comfortable about speaking up as I am.

“I’m proud of how far I’ve gotten,” she continued. “It speaks to how hard I work, and I’ve had really good instructors. I explain that I have this “thing” and I might do things differently.”

In fact, she’s channeled the high energy that often accompanies ADHD by volunteering with St. John Ambulance, serving on the Canadian Nursing Students Association’s advocacy committee and its national debate team, and co-founding MUNSON Gives Back with her sister Julia, who is also a nursing student.

She’s also been awarded a St. John Ambulance nursing scholarship and a Newfoundland and Labrador Law Foundation Legal research award.

Ms. White wants to help empower others because “at the end of the day there’s so much you bring to the table as a person or nurse with a disability.”

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