McMaster University

McMaster University

Nursing graduate excels despite learning disability

By Amanda Boundris

Laura Davison

Laura Davison has one university degree already and is a member of the Dean's Honour List. She has received McMaster awards for her leadership and service to the community, and was elected twice to represent the McMaster Undergraduate Nursing Students' Society (MUNSS) in different roles.

What makes her accomplishments so remarkable is that she reads at the level of a fifth grader or 10-year-old.

On Friday, June 17 Davison was one of 482 graduates who received their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) degree from McMaster University's School of Nursing during convocation ceremonies at Hamilton Place.

The Peterborough native has a learning disability, though she hasn't always known it. Her mind jumbles things together, like digits and letters in phone numbers and license plates. "I had a difficult time in school keeping up with my classmates. I had to put in the extra time to make up the grades,' said Davison.

It was in 2008, after her second year at the University of Guelph where she would eventually earn a bachelor of science specializing in biological sciences, that a summer employer noticed a parallel between his personal struggles with a learning disability and the issues she was having.

A psychological assessment was performed and Davison was diagnosed with a reading disorder. She scored below the tenth percentile in reading, reading comprehension and phonological processing, but above the ninetieth percentile in cognitive functioning. "I'm more or less a smart person who isn't able to keep up with the reading without help,' she explained.

Citing sheer determination and work ethic, her psychologist "was astonished I was able to pass my first year in university and that I wasn't forced to stay behind a year,' said Davison.

She needs to study twice as much as her peers for exams, and write essays several weeks in advance, going through five or six drafts with family members, said Davison.

"What I want anyone else with an issue like this to know is that it can be a challenge, but not an unbeatable challenge. Those people who told me I couldn't do it, I want to show them that yes, I do things in a different way, but it doesn't mean it can't be done.'

She attributes her success in the nursing program to the problem-based model of learning (PBL), an approach developed by McMaster. "PBL was my lifesaver,' she said, explaining that the small-group problem-solving, verbal discussion and use of visual aids allowed her to maximize her learning potential. Also, the Centre for Student Development permitted her to take accommodated exams and had special programs to help her read.

Nicole Gabriele

Davison decided to pursue nursing partly because her mom is a nurse, adding, "I realized I wanted to be in contact with people and help them."

She has been hired by the London Health Sciences Centre's Nursing Resource Unit and plans to pursue graduate studies in nursing. "What's motivated me is just knowing I could do more than people said I could and that the disability wasn't a limitation I was willing to accept.'

At the convocation ceremony on June 17, students of the McMaster Mohawk Conestoga BScN program received their degrees, and in addition, three PhD nursing students and three master's students received graduate degrees. Students in medical radiation sciences also graduated at this ceremony.

An honorary Doctor of Laws degree was conferred on Sister M. Simone Roach, an influential educator in nursing who established the first Canadian code of ethics for registered nurses and received the Order of Canada in 2010.

In addressing the convocation, Roach told the graduates: "We care not because we are nurses or radiation technologists, but because we are human beings. A need to care for others is what called you into the profession, and it's what will sustain you through the joys, conflicts and challenges you will experience.'

In her speech, class valedictorian Nicole Gabriele encouraged her fellow graduates to "find your passion, your motivation, your inspiration and don't ever stop dreaming.'

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