As a profession, we’re embracing the fact that each of us has different skills and niches. We’re beginning to understand the power of harnessing them and utilising our strengths better. This is huge progress. 

In my career, things have come a long way – even the foundations of how we teach: we now appreciate that everyone learns differently and that resources are most helpful when they support these differing styles. I could choose to reflect on the timing of these advances and be frustrated that my own journey was harder because we hadn’t yet made these leaps in learning, but that wouldn’t be helpful to anyone. Frustration is often the thief of growth and rarely gleans a positive reflection. 

Challenge of learning

In retrospect, training was hard for me. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t communicate my struggles and, thinking back, that probably made it harder for my mentors to help me. If I didn’t know what I needed or why I found it challenging, or even that it was harder than it needed to be, then why would anyone else?

Fast forward to today and I’m a proud RVN, mentor, BVNA Council member and an accomplished professional, passionate about debunking some of the challenges I faced. I now know I hadn’t been alone in my struggles: there were lots of people like me. 

At school, I didn’t like reading aloud but I was a high achiever. I exceeded expectations and hit the grades I needed. I was in the upper sets for core subjects and often chosen to buddy new students. I was in top sets for English and literature — my GCSE grades were C and A* respectively. All the signs were there but the stereotypes around neurodiversity led people to believe there was a strong correlation between intelligence and brains that are wired differently. My brain is merely different and there is power to be harnessed in understanding that. 

‘My hunger for learning was at an all time high when I threw in the towel'

I was passionate about becoming a veterinary nurse, but I gave up in my second year of training. I quit and went to work in car insurance. I’d become disillusioned and burnt out. The very passion that first drove me to become a nurse had become a burden. I wanted it so badly, yet it just wouldn’t click. I left deadlines until the last minute and struggled with structure – despite being surrounded by mentors who liked structure. To them it looked like I didn’t care or was flippant. In truth, my hunger for learning was at an all-time high when I threw in the towel, but the training system wasn’t built for minds like mine.

Getting a diagnosis

After years of struggling, I sought help – which was a leap of faith. Late diagnosis resulted in a multitude of terms being attributed to me. It was a revelation and as if I’d been handed a book that could translate my brain’s language; a manual for a different operating system to that being used by the majority of people. They were on iOS, I was using Android. Different, not less. I returned to nurse training and passed with flying colours. I finally understood how to utilise the way my brain processed information and it all slotted into place.  

Working in practice

Since graduating I’ve taken steps to slowly relearn how best to use my brain and where I can utilise the differences in order to thrive. GCHQ states: ‘With the right mix of minds we can achieve great things’ and I firmly believe that should translate to veterinary nursing and the wider profession. Around one in seven adults in the UK are neurodivergent (The Donaldson Trust, 2021). This broad umbrella term includes, but isn’t limited to, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and autism. Many neurodivergent people have more than one element. I, for example, have epilepsy, ADHD and dyslexia – each of which comes with its own challenges and misconceptions. Further understanding of each element has allowed me to adapt and make decisions in my career that utilise some of the attributes and strengths of neurodiversity.

Celebrating individuality

Despite the stereotypes, I’m incredibly adaptable. I’ve had to be, having spent much of my life working in a different way to my peers. The school system rarely offered the kind of interactive learning I found engaging, although the pandemic has improved this. In my career, my adaptability has made working as a locum much more manageable because I rapidly acclimatise to new practices and learn protocols quickly.

My attention to detail and interest in the way things work enable me to look at situations from a different perspective and to problem-solve effectively. This is best utilised in an ICU setting, where we frequently have to think outside the box in a fast-paced environment.

Contrary to common assumptions about ADHD, I thrive on change but am less good with structure; I don’t enjoy a rigid schedule. People around me and my team found this difficult to comprehend when I started exploring my neurodiversity. Traditionally, it was assumed that structure was what I needed and that it would keep me on track. However, I fi nd it stifles my creativity and thought process. It comes back to the idea that my brain is wired differently.

‘They were on iOS, I was using Android. Different, not less’  

I’ve been fortunate enough to fi nd friends within veterinary nursing who are also neurodivergent and thriving in their careers. They have found niches that play to their strengths and enhance the skill set of their teams – whether that be their attention to detail, their talent for spotting patterns or the ability to problem solve and improvise in the field. Those differences often complement the gaps in other team members’ skill sets. The coming together of different minds and thought processes ultimately benefits the team, patients, business and the individuals.

When we nurture talent, we allow the opportunity for great minds to grow and for talent to flourish. By supporting and empowering neurodiversity in the veterinary profession, people like me won’t have to walk away from training simply because we feel they don’t fi t. We don’t need to fi t into a mould; we are brilliant, talented individuals and should be treated as such.

Further help and support

Women and young girls are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and/or autism because of the way it manifests. To obtain my diagnosis I sought help from my GP. The waiting times are long so I know of many people using a private healthcare provider. Diagnosis and adjustments are much more accessible if a person is within education, as there are processes and signposting in place to help.

The British Veterinary Chronic Illness Support (BVCIS) has recently formed and, although in its infancy, is helping people across the profession understand what support is available. It&rsquo
;s also creating and facilitating networks of support where needed.  

The BVNA Chronic Illness campaign was inclusive of neurodiversity, and the tool kit linked to the campaign has a wealth of signposting links in its directory. Visit for more information.