Nursing School with ADHD
A topic that has come up a lot in my Facebook Group has been about how to thrive in nursing school with ADHD. So, I crowdsourced the 16K person group and got some amazing feedback which I have compiled for you here. So if you’re going to nursing school with ADHD, I sincerely hope this helps!
Organization is key
If you’re going to nursing school with ADHD, one of the best things you can do is make organization a priority.
- Use a planner. If you try to remember everything, all that mental effort to remember tasks, assignments and deadlines takes up processing capacity in your brain, which is a huge distraction.
- Create a master list like the one I teach you to use in my book Nursing School Thrive Guide and Crucial Concepts Bootcamp. With a master list, you can check things off as you go, visually track your progress, and always know what’s next on your priority list.
- Many students use a whiteboards or wall chart showing everything you have to do for the week.
- Use color coding in your planner or wall charts, assigning a different color for each class.
- Get all your materials together in one place before you start on a project or study session.
- Plan time in your schedule to do your planning! It can take time to put all the dates and times in your calendar system, so you need to account for that time and be accountable to it.
Routines will save the day
Nursing students with ADHD tend to have greater success when they follow well-established routines. Here are some ideas to try.
- Start with a consistent morning routine that incorporates the most-important things you can do to set your day up for success.
- Use a habit app such as Habitica to manage daily tasks that you may forget or may feel tempted to blow off such as exercise or eating a healthy breakfast.
- Prepare the night before to ensure you have everything you need for a stress-free morning. Create a “command center” that has everything you need all in one place as you go out the door. This includes keys, lunch, backpack, water bottle, clinical supplies, etc…
- Make a daily list of the things you need to do that day. This could be a great component to your morning routine.
- Use alarms to ensure you wake up at the same time each day, get in the shower at the same time, head out the door at the same time, etc… This is a great way to make sure your mornings stay on track. Other students use a playlist that signifies when it’s time to do certain activities. For example, showering and getting ready is a particular group of songs, breakfast or packing lunch is another, etc…
Boost your productivity
If you’re in nursing school with ADHD, a key area to focus on is boosting your productivity. Here’s what students told me works for them!
- A fantastic method that many students with ADHD utilize is the Pomodoro technique. This technique involves identifying a specific task, working on it for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. This cycle repeats four times and then you take a longer break of about 15 to 30 minutes. An app such as Focus Keeper makes it a breeze to apply the Pomodoro technique to your productivity sessions. What I really like about the Focus Keeper app is that you can customize the time intervals for your focus sessions and breaks so they truly work for you.
- Background noise is the name of the game for a lot of students. Students report using instrumental music (with no vocals) and white noise machines to help them stay engaged and focused on the task at hand.
- Got a task to finish? Make it a game! One student reported setting goals like folding the laundry before it completely cools from the dryer, or writing a discussion board post before the Pomodoro timer dings. Sometimes a little competition is a good thing!
- If you can start an assignment or project early, then do it. This leaves you space to take breaks when you need them and have some cushion in your schedule for the unexpected.
- Determine what time of day you are most productive and use that time to tackle bigger projects or more difficult concepts.
Enhance your ability to focus and minimize distractions
Thriving in nursing school with ADHD, means minimizing distractions so you can focus.
- When studying, either put your phone in airplane mode or, better yet, put it in another room. For some students, it’s just too much of a distraction to even have it within reach.
- Use a focus app such as Freedom or Self Control so you’re not able to use distracting websites or apps during a work session.
- If you’re using a tablet for school, remove social media and other distraction apps from the device (or use a focus app during work sessions).
- Don’t leave your email app open as it is a huge distraction to hear that ‘incoming mail’ message. Make a rule that you only check your email at set times of day and only after your work is done.
- Use reminder alarms so you can “set it and forget it.” Knowing your alarm will go off when it’s time to leave to pick up the kids means your brain has a lot less “stuff” swirling around in it, making it much easier to focus on the task at hand.
- Slow down when taking tests and read things aloud if you can. This greatly minimizes the risk you’ll skip over potentially important words or phrases.
- When attending in-person lectures, sit in the front row so there are no distractions in front of you.
- If electronics are difficult distractions for you to resist, try taking notes on paper so you aren’t tempted to shop or do other things that pull you away from your work.
- Utilize earplugs or noise-canceling headphones during exams and work sessions if sounds are a source of distraction for you.
- Reward yourself for completing focus sessions. Maybe it’s making a cup of tea, playing with the dog or spending ten minutes doing an activity you enjoy. You’ve worked hard….you’ve earned it!
- Minimize visual distractions by keeping only the things you need to for that specific task/assignment on your desk. Put other books, notes or in-progress projects out of sight.
- If you tend to procrastinate with non-essential activities (especially when stressed), write a note to yourself and put it somewhere you can see it. Maybe it says, “I’ll organize my closet tomorrow. Today I’m studying for an exam.”
- If a thought or future task keeps popping into your head while you’re studying, jot it down on a dedicated list of things to tackle later. I call this my “Later List.”
Create an ADHD-friendly study space
Tackling nursing school with ADHD means setting up a workspace designed to maximize your success.
- Make sure you have everything you need at your desk area so you can get to work and minimize disruptions. This may include a water bottle, a snack, pens/pencils/highlighters, a comfortable chair, headphones, fidgets, reference books and study materials.
- Consider a computer riser so you can sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, etc…
- Use a bookcase cabinet with doors versus open shelving so you can put things away when you’re not using them, leading to less distractions.
- Designate a study-only area in your home. This sends a message to your brain that when you’re in this space, it’s time to work.
- Some students benefit from alternate forms of seating and switch from a desk to a table to the couch to a lap desk, etc… Experiment to find what works for you!
Maximize your learning style
If you’re going to nursing school with ADHD, studying effectively means knowing and maximizing your learning style.
- Utilize interactive learning to stay as engaged as possible. A great resource for this is through the online access codes that come with textbooks. These often include many interactive activities that can help the student with ADHD stay engaged while learning and studying.
- Write your notes in different color pens or pencils. For visual and creative learners this can “trick” your brain into thinking it’s art and not just a bunch of words.
- Learn the material by teaching someone else. This is an excellent way to stay engaged and take on a very active role in your learning. Plus, it’s a great way to develop positive relationships in nursing school!
- Incorporate physical activity while reading. I’ve heard of students using fidget tools, incorporating color-coded highlighting and even knitting.
- Use a fidget tool to remind yourself to slow down during tests.
- If your brain is drawn to art and creativity, doing things like color-coding your notes, drawing out concepts, and even, using different handwriting styles can all engage your brain in an effective way.
- If you tend to zone out or lose interest during lecture, try to familiarize yourself with the concepts prior to class. One student reported that it was very helpful to do a quick skim of the reading and then try to fill out a LATTE template before class. Then, during lecture, she would stay engaged by filling in the gaps.
- If your school allows audio recordings of lecture, take advantage of this so you can listen to the lessons more than once. If you get bored with people who speak slowly, increase the playback speed.
- Utilize captions while watching videos. This gives your brain additional sensory input which can help you stay focused and engaged. You may need to request closed-captioning from your school or ask your professor to turn on captioning when using Zoom.
- Find what helps you remember things, even if it seems silly. Some students use goofy stories to remember medication side effects or disease signs/symptoms. Other effective techniques are mnemonic devices or even songs. Hey, whatever works!
- As you learn a concept, try to guess what the test questions will be about. Write these out as you go and not only have you stayed engaged, you’ve also created a study guide for the exam. That’s a win-win!
- Record yourself reading your notes or talking through concepts. Listen to these recordings as you do a physical activity such as walking to class or doing chores around the house.
- When reading out loud, try using an exaggerated voice. It sounds silly but it can help you stay engaged AND help you remember.
- Many students learn optimally by having the material read TO them. If you’re utilizing e-books, check to see if they have a “read aloud” option.
Apps and equipment
Having the tools you need to thrive can make going to nursing school with ADHD a lot less stressful. Note that some of these links earn this site a commission, these are always designated by #ad.
- Fidgets, like this Infinity Cube (#ad), can help ease anxiety, focus your mind and serve as a reminder to stay engaged.
- iPad with Apple pencil and the Notability app. This app allows you to record lectures and take notes within the same document. This is a great way to review the material if you lost attention during class.
- Habitica – app that helps you form and follow habit routines with fun gamification built in.
- Freedom and Self Control – apps that block distracting apps and websites at times you designate.
- Focus Keeper – app that utilizes the Pomodoro technique.
- A white noise machine (#ad) can drown out unwanted sounds that cause distractions.
- Noise-canceling headphones(#ad) create a sound-free environment, or a superb auditory experience…you choose!
- An adjustable computer riser (#ad) enables you to transition from sitting to standing with ease.
Utilize your resources
If you’re heading into nursing school with ADHD, take the time to familiarize yourself with the resources available at your school.
- Utilize every resource that is available at your school. These include the disability center, writing center, tutoring services and counseling. Plan ahead because some of these may require appointments and documentation, especially when getting accommodations for things like exams.
- The “How to ADHD” YouTube channel has some wonderful suggestions and tools.
- If your school or division of Nursing has tutoring, make an appointment even if you don’t necessarily need the tutoring. Having structured study time is worth its weight in gold.
Be a clinical rockstar
Nursing school clinicals can be especially challenging for students with ADHD, but with these tips you will soar!
- In clinical, lists and routines will be your BFFs. Many students report having several things they need to do and then forgetting what they are by the time they get to the patient’s room. That’s because hospitals (and patients) are absolutely brimming with distractions. Make lists, even if it’s just a list of things to do next time you go in the patient’s room. Over time, you’ll probably find you rely on these lists less and less as the environment becomes more familiar.
- Routines help ensure you don’t forget to do important tasks. Develop a “start-of-shift” routine a “first-assessment” routine and an “end-of-shift” routine. I talk about all these routines in my book, Nursing School Thrive Guide (#ad).
- Use a run sheet. Run sheets are your general plan for the day, so you know when meds and specific interventions will be done.
- Keep a small notepad (#ad) with you at all times. Jot down vital signs, patient requests, instructions from the RN and anything else you need to remember. There’s no shame in writing things down, especially when those tasks are new.
Stick with your medication regimen
- This is not the time to experiment with your medication regimen without your physician’s input. Up to 50% of college students under-use or stop using their ADHD medication. Always discuss your medication regimen with your healthcare provider.
- If you move away from home, have a plan for refills and regular check-ins with your doctor. This may include finding a new primary care provider, so plan ahead.
Be kind to yourself
Attending nursing school is rough enough, attending nursing school with ADHD can be especially challenging. You owe it to yourself to celebrate how amazing you are and to reward yourself for a job well done!
- More than anything else, it’s important that you give yourself some grace. Things that seem easy for other students may be challenging for you, but you actually have a lot of advantages. People with ADHD are creative problem solvers and that is HUGE in nursing…so give yourself a pat on the back!
- Exercise has been shown to be highly beneficial for students with ADHD, so make the time even if it’s just 30 minutes a day.
- Incorporate self care into your routine, and this includes down time to do things that simply bring you joy. Remember that replenishing your emotional reserves will actually make you MORE productive in the long run.
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