McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Nursing graduate excels despite learning disability

By Amanda Boundris
Published: June 16, 2011
Laura Davison
Laura Davison is among 482 graduates receiving their BScN degrees today.

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 will be one of 482 graduates receiving 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.

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."

The convocation ceremony for graduates of the McMaster Mohawk Conestoga BScN program begins at 9:30 a.m. at Hamilton Place. In addition, two PhD nursing students and one master’s student will receive graduate degrees. Graduates in medical radiation sciences will also receive their degrees at this ceremony.

An honorary Doctor of Laws degree will be conferred on Sister M. Simone Roach, an influential educator in nursing who established the first Canadian code of ethics for registered nurses. She will also address the convocation.

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