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Can You Be a Nurse If You Have ADHD?

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can you be a nurse if you have adhdCan you be a nurse if you have ADHD?

Adulting With ADHD Staff

Can you be a nurse if you have ADHD? While ADHD symptoms include disorganization, trouble focusing and more, there are unique strengths linked to the condition that nurses can benefit from.

So, can you be a nurse if you have ADHD? Yes, you can. But the road ahead isn’t smooth. Fortunately, you can make things easier by talking to your doctor about therapies that can help your condition. There are also many coping techniques you can use to improve your organization and make it easier to get through school and thrive as a nurse. 

Don’t lose heart. If you are passionate about the nursing profession and determined to work on yourself and deal with your challenges, you can certainly make it. Keep reading to learn more about the journey to becoming a nurse, even if you have ADHD baggage.

Related: Can You Be A Teacher If You Have ADHD?

What Does Learning to Become a Nurse Entail?

Studying and training to become a nurse is challenging and task-intensive. Effective performance within hospital settings requires students to cultivate and build executive functions for prioritization, organization, and distraction management. Nursing courses are designed with these clinical practice requirements in mind.

Nursing education also involves learning massive amounts of subject matter, along with learning other disciplines that would help lay the foundation for your practice. 

The second aspect of becoming a nurse (and arguably the most challenging one) is applying the knowledge you learned in school once you enter a clinical environment. It certainly doesn’t help that these settings are often characterized by distractions, emergencies, and interruptions.  

For ADHD students who are generally hyperactive and have issues staying focused on a particular task, functioning effectively in such environments could be an uphill task. 

The worst part is that most nurses are not taught in class to deal with such real-life situations. After their formal teaching, they are basically pushed into clinical environments and forced to learn coping mechanisms, time management, prioritization, etc. on their own.

Studying to Become a Nurse When You Have ADHD

With ADHD, it could become arduous to keep up with the typical academic environment, since there is not much an institute can do to modify courses to suit the needs of ADHD students. As an individual with ADHD, there are certain traits you naturally develop, which include:

  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity
  • Intense emotional response
  • Attention-deficit
  • Sudden loss of temper
  • Instability within interpersonal relationships
  • Educational and occupational frustration

Attention disorder is an issue in adults, particularly in college students. Your ADHD could present you with issues relating to organization, completion of duties, decision-making, the ability to listen to other people, and reading.

However, if you can make or get done certain adjustments to your learning environment, staying focused on a particular task could become less difficult.

  • Seek permission to sit in a place of your choice so that you can focus better.
  • Bond with your classmates so that your cooperation skills improve.
  • Have a buddy by your side when you need help with something specific, such as organization.
  • If you need physical space and the classroom is spacious enough, request a separate learning area.

Three Kinds of Attention Deficit Syndrome

A major sign of ADHD is the inability to stay attentive for prolonged time periods. As someone learning to become a nurse, this lack of attentiveness can be a major hurdle. 

This inability to remain focused could be classified as the following: 

Primarily Inattentive 

Primarily inattentive ADHD students do not exhibit the hyperactive, fidgety symptoms generally identified with the condition. They are instead perceived as unfocused, dreamy people with short attention spans. They can also struggle at discerning details. The symptoms usually linked with this attentive disorder type are the following: 

  • Difficulty maintaining attention
  • The tendency to make careless mistakes
  • Inability to follow comprehensive instructions
  • Troubled organizational skills
  • Difficulty keeping distractions at bay

Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive Type 

This type of ADHD inattentiveness is what people usually conjure up or assume people with ADHD seem to suffer from. Being unable to stay quiet or still is a common sign. Though usually common among kids, adults and college students with PHI could exhibit the following behaviors: 

  • Continual restlessness
  • Fidgeting tendencies
  • Excessive chattering
  • The tendency to frequently intrude on others
  • Difficulty waiting in line or taking turns
  • Answering a question without hearing or reading the question completely

Combined Type

As the name denotes, this type is a combination of the two types mentioned above. People with combined-type ADHD exhibit six or more symptoms pertaining to inattention and impulsivity – which means at least 12 unique symptoms. Students with these symptoms could find it difficult to: 

  • Stay still
  • Remain focused
  • Retain information
  • Stay organized or multitask

Not to mention, this type is the most common of the three.

Specific Studying Techniques to Get You Through

The following are things you could do to sail through your nursing program. 

Take Constant Notes on Everything

Leaving yourself physical reminders of upcoming tasks is the easiest way to keep yourself organized. 

When you get your syllabus for the different classes in your course, make sure you write them down. If there are projects or assignments to be completed or submitted, enter their due dates right after you get home or reach your room. Have all the information noted in a single calendar so that there are fewer things to keep track of. 

To be effective at note-taking during class hours, it’s imperative you cut out distractions and take the seat closest to the instructor. If you think you may later have trouble identifying your notes, mix and match your note-taking techniques. For instance, do outlines, lists, audio recordings, drawings, etc. The format you are most comfortable with must be your primary note-taking method. 

Break Down Tasks 

Procrastination is common among students, particularly students diagnosed with ADHD. It’s essentially a mental block that rises due to the enormity of the task(s) on hand. To overcome this, break down your tasks into little chunks and set individual deadlines for those smaller tasks. 

For instance, when writing an article, set deadlines each for the research work and the actual writing part. If needed, you may break things down further based on the complexity of the work. 

Employ All Your Senses 

If you have trouble remembering things, use the multimodal learning technique. In other words, engage your various sensory systems

Using a highlighter tool (such as this one by BIC) while reading text, studying with a friend or classmate, listening to a book’s audio version, etc. will help you grasp things and learn better. Also, you will not feel bored when you try out different studying methods. The notes you create may also help you retain information better. 

Efforts Nursing Institutes May Take to Accommodate ADHD Students 

Close to 18% of the students enrolling in an undergraduate nursing program exhibit some kind of learning disability, and ADHD is a common subtype among these. To accommodate students with such disabilities, institutions are devising processes and incorporating strategies that could help ADHD students overcome their academic challenges. 

Hiring Clinical Nursing Instructors 

Institutes may hire clinical nursing instructors (NIs) to coach students with ADHD. 

These clinical NIs are taken on board for their nursing experience and expertise. They may not have been prepared formally for teaching. However, their hospital or real-life clinical setting experience would help them provide students struggling with ADHD some solid feedback about the following: 

  • Time management and organization
  • Staying focused
  • Reviewing agency policies and textbooks prior to performing nursing psychomotor skills

These nursing instructors, thanks to their background, have learned how to manage tasks on a priority basis and not necessarily in a specific order. Multitasking, prioritization, and reprioritization, the grouping of tasks, etc. are strategies experienced nurses employ to manage time and improve their workflow. 

Learning to constantly swing priorities is usually a section of executive functioning nursing students have trouble with, especially students with ADHD. Clinical NIs can help you address those areas. 

Creating Additional Learning Plans 

Some institutes may also develop specific learning plans to help ADHD students imbibe clinical practice information much more efficiently. 

Coaching is also used as an intervention to help undergraduate nursing students with ADHD. Individual coaching sessions could boost the executive functioning of a student in clinical practice. These sessions are designed to incorporate multiple sub-goals so that each sub-goal could be focused on each week. 

These coaching sessions typically focus on the following: 

  • Preparation
  • Setting priorities and organization
  • Managing distractions

Besides centering on executive functions, these sessions also encourage students to set practical goals around extracurricular pursuits, such as volunteer and paid work and other social commitments, and setting aside activities that cause great levels of stress and/or exhaust time that could have been spent on clinical/academic success strategies. 

To help organize and manage tasks, your coach would foresee and break down intricate activities and tasks into small manageable actions, with each step assigned a time estimate. This will provide you insights into what happens during actual clinical shifts and the amount of time each activity or event consumes. 

Through coaching, you would learn how to do a particular task first, get done with it quickly and a lot more effectively, and easily move on to the other tasks, so that you save time and energy in the process. The sessions would help you think before you start to do a task, which is key when you have ADHD. You would learn to hold your horses and understand what is that you really need to do or what the situation truly demands. 

Thanks to ADHD, your mind is susceptible to wandering and taking on multiple tasks at the same time. To manage changing priorities, you will also need to learn how to cut out distracting stimuli and increase relevant stimuli. 

As a nurse, you are likely to come across distractions in the form of patients, events happening within your vicinity, phone calls, etc. These learning phases would help you deal with them more effectively. 

Access to Specific Campus Facilities 

If you’ve been formally diagnosed with ADHD, your nursing institute could be flexible about how you learn on campus. For instance, you could be given: 

  • Note-taking assistance
  • Separate locations for tests
  • Additional time on tests
  • Permission to audio-document class lectures

To make use of these accommodations, you should let your campus health center and professors know about your condition. You may need written ADHD documentation from a professional, such as a letter from your doctor, for consideration. At times, you may have to undergo psychological evaluation on campus. 

As hinted to in the title, the aforementioned initiatives would not be taken up by most institutes. If such interventions matter to you or you think they might help your cause, look for institutes in your region that go the extra mile to accommodate students with ADHD. 

ADHD Traits That Can Help You Excel as a Nurse

Not everything is gloomy with your ADHD and your desire to be a nurse. Though ADHD is a psychological “disorder,” there are surprisingly some positives to ADHD as well (such as high energy levels), which could give you an edge over your peers – both in school and your workplace. 

Kindly note that the following are unique traits identified with ADHD. They are not necessarily symptoms of the condition.   


Several ADHD traits could be viewed through a positive lens. For instance, hyperactivity need not just mean that settling down can be hard. Trouble paying attention could be interpreted as flexible thinking too. 

Thanks to this ability to be nimble on your feet, you react quickly to things around you, and these quick reactions could lead to greater actions. In other words, you are very unlikely to sit around feeling helpless. 

Highly Passionate 

Nursing is a job that you must be truly passionate about to stay motivated and thrive in. If you have ADHD and your life goal is to be a nurse, you’ve got a solid match. 

Your ADHD helps you stay hyper-focused. You also tend to be highly passionate about things. And when you pair the two with each other, you end up being highly productive. In the real world, this means you would be highly driven to pursue things that hold your interest. 

Increased Resilience 

People with ADHD are naturally good at pushing aside setbacks, moving forward better and stronger than before, and adapting fresh strategies. Like every healthcare provider, nurses come across multiple challenging and stressful situations day in, day out. To deal with such situations and maintain work-life balance, coping mechanisms and resilience training are critical.


One of ADHD’s hallmarks is that your thoughts are constantly changing. You just need to harness them to be a successful nurse. If you do, you will thrive in environments that need you to analyze and adapt quickly. 

When you’re a nurse, no two days are the same. You will never know what the next morning or night has in store for you, even if you’ve been in the profession for years. When you dare to expect things to work a certain way, something surprising will await you. 

Quick Thinking 

An upside to being hyperactive is the ability to think quickly. This means you are highly unlikely to get trapped in specific things and their details. When planning things, you’ll quickly rush through the particulars. Though this may come across as impatience to some, it certainly would help you be quick on your feet and arrive at decisions quickly. 

As a practicing nurse, you are likely to come across life or death situations concerning your patients. In such scenarios, you cannot always await the right information to let you spring into action. You should be able to utilize your knowledge, experience, and expertise to make prompt judgment calls. Your ADHD or ability to think quickly could come in handy during such dire situations.   


Thanks to your ADHD, you’re no stranger to hard work or putting in twice the efforts others put, just to stay relevant or be in the race. On the other hand, nurses cannot just stop learning continually. They must also be hardworking naturally. Slacking off is generally the reason why most nurses are shown the door.


The behaviors linked with ADHD could change as you grow older. A young child would usually exhibit extremely high levels of enthusiasm and restlessness. Young adults and adolescents, however, are usually withdrawn and less expressive. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, disabled student nurses could encounter certain difficulties getting a job, particularly the ones with obvious or visible ADHD symptoms.

Therefore, as someone studying and aspiring to become a nurse, you should develop specialized studying skills to block out certain obvious ADHD traits or symptoms. For instance, work to block out your hyper-attentiveness toward things around you. 

Thankfully, most of the adjustments you need to make are usually within you instead of in your physical environment. Therefore, continue working hard, and the world will not see your ADHD.

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