Dental student overcomes adversity to pursue goals

Dentistry student Shannon Grady (center) plans to aid underserved communities after she graduates in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Grady)

Shannon Grady always had a hard time paying attention in class. But when she was diagnosed at 24 years old with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Grady said she felt relieved. 

Grady, now a 48-year-old dental student at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, said ADHD makes it difficult for her to learn as quickly as other students. 

“When you’re told all the time that you’re not smart, or when you’re failing your classes and people treat you differently because you’re holding them back … it’s disheartening,” Grady said. “It just made me realize that I wasn’t dumb — I was different.” 

Growing up, Grady was often sent to the principal’s office for acting restless and talking to other students in class. Getting into trouble became routine for Grady.

“I just felt like, ‘Oh, here I go again. I’m in trouble again,’” Grady said. “I wasn’t mad. It was just more irritation because I never really understood why I was in trouble because I didn’t see myself … as teachers saw me as being disruptive.” 

Before attending USC, she said she was put on academic probation at Grossmont Junior College. While Grady said she enjoyed her classes, she continued to receive low grades. After trying various types of medication that didn’t work, she said a doctor prescribed Ritalin to help her focus. That was when things started to change. 

“I could think, and I could hear and I could pay attention to what was around me,” she said. “That next semester, I had to fight academic probation to get back to school, and I started getting A’s and B’s. If you look at my transcript, there’s a huge difference.” 

Grady worked as a dental hygienist and manicurist while earning her undergraduate degree in business management. In 2010, she got her graduate degree in education from Northern Arizona University. She then spent six years working on prerequisites and studying for entrance exams before getting accepted to Ostrow.

She chose USC’s program because of its focus on public health and helping underserved communities, rather than preparing students to conduct their own experiments and research. 

“USC is all about the community and about giving back and helping [those] in need … and that’s everything that I do,” Grady said. “[Some dental schools] want you to come out and be research-ready, but that’s not me.”  

While she takes medication to help stay focused during classes and exams, Grady said she still takes longer to learn than her peers. To address this problem, Grady listens to lectures repeatedly and rewrites her notes to retain the course material. 

Roberto Nochez, one of Grady’s dental school peers, studies with Grady and helps her prepare for exams. 

“I told her that when we’re doing exams that she had to slow down,” Nochez said. “She had to consciously tell herself, ‘I have to slow down.’ Otherwise, [she makes] mistakes … [on] simple stuff [she] should’ve gotten right.” 

Grady said that whenever she falls behind in her classes, she said she meets with her teachers and tells them she needs to learn the information differently than the other students.

“I’ve butted heads with instructors because of that, but … it wakes them up, and they’re like, ‘She obviously wants to learn, let’s take the time to teach her,’” Grady said. “And it’s amazing, the respect you get from somebody that has all this knowledge, and they want to share it with you, but they don’t know how sometimes.” 

To concentrate and get her work done, Grady has learned to study in quiet environments and stay organized. She carries a calendar with her and writes down everything she needs to do to stay on track for projects and other assignments.

“I struggle with [ADHD] everyday, but it’s not debilitating,” Grady said. “It’s something that I have to work on every day, but I don’t let it take over my life because then I’ll get nothing done.” 

Dryden Granger, another dental student, said he thinks Grady’s struggles with ADHD have made her more empathetic, a trait that comes through in her interactions with patients. 

“I think that [she] would see a side of people that a lot of us will never understand and can’t see,” Granger said. “I see an empathy in [her] when [she deals] with … patients.” 

Nochez said Grady has strong communication skills and the natural ability to talk with patients and make them feel more comfortable. 

“Here in dental school, you’ll see a lot of people,” Nochez said. “They have a hard time communicating, but [for] her, it just comes naturally. She just talks to everyone, and she’s able to keep up a conversation.” 

Grady also spends her time volunteering with organizations like Ayuda, a nonprofit aimed at empowering youth with diabetes through peer leadership and international volunteers. When she went on her first volunteer trip to Mexico in the summer of 2014 to aid children with cleft palates, Grady said she knew she had to change her life to continue helping others. 

“I downsized my life so that I could afford to live … a life of giving,” Grady said. “I find more satisfaction in that … I want to be able to provide and give to others because I’ve had such a great life.” 

While Grady said she doesn’t have any long-term goals, she wants to continue her volunteer work and use her knowledge of dentistry and healthcare to assist others. 

“When I graduate, … what I’m going to do is go back to my community where I’m from, and I’m going to be able to help those people as well,” Grady said.