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I'm so glad I ignored the doubts of my 17-year-old self

24th March 2022

Now in the final year of a nursing degree, Fabienne Nelson describes how self-doubt and worry over stammering almost stopped her from pursuing her dream job.

I was a late speaker. When I was in pre-school I soon realised that I was 'different' to the other children. At primary school, I couldn't even say my name. When I attempted tricky words, the stammer developed. The more anxious I became about stammering, the more I stammered. I was caught in a vicious circle.

Other children didn't understand and showed no compassion when I struggled to speak. I was teased constantly as 'the girl who couldn't talk' and I began to believe it. I used to dread being asked to talk in class. Often, I so wanted to put my hand up to answer a question, but was too scared because the perfectly formed answer in my head wouldn't come out of my mouth. I missed classes when I knew oral lessons would be on because the anxiety about being mocked terrified me. I just wished people would give me the time to form the words and make myself understood.

As a stammerer you learn tricks to hide it, like avoiding certain words or replacing them with alternatives. The words I stammered on most were those beginning with D and F. This is unfortunate as my name begins with an F. The amount of times I have struggled to answer the simple question "What is your name?". Saying F-F-F-F-F repeatedly to impatient receptionists or customer service staff on the phone, soon led me to give a false name! Even today, staff at the local Starbucks think I am called Clare!

Passion and doubts

As I grew older and became more aware, I appreciated the importance of listening to others and giving them time to speak — because it's something I'm acutely conscious of when I struggle to get my words out. I have always loved helping people, be it family, friends or even strangers crossing the road. I soon developed a passion for nursing; seeing nurses and carers care for my Nana in a nursing home, especially during her bad times, made me want to become a nurse. 

After researching colleges, I began to worry when it became apparent that nursing is a very 'vocal' profession, with oral communication being a key attribute of a good nurse, be it communicating with patients and their families, or with colleagues. My stammer seemed like a monumental hurdle to being able to advocate for patients. When I mentioned to people that I wanted to follow a career in nursing, many sniggered and said, "Are you sure you are capable?" or "That's a very vocal career, can you handle that?".

I began to worry when it became apparent that nursing is a very 'vocal' profession... My stammer seemed like a monumental hurdle to being able to advocate for patients.

The very thought of striking up a conversation with a patient was daunting: "I am your nurse today and my name is F-F-F-F-F-F-Fabienne".  I imagined a nurse who could not even introduce herself wouldn't instil much faith with the patient in their ability to care for them. Perhaps I should start researching a career that was less dependent on speaking, I thought. Nothing appealed to me. I hated the fact I wouldn't be with people and helping others. Nursing meant so much to me and it was what I had to do to be true to myself.

The support from my family and close friends has been incredible throughout my life. They listened to me, encouraged me to follow my dreams and ultimately gave me the belief that my stammer should never define who I am. With their support, along with guidance from an amazing school careers advisor, I decided to go for it and pursue a career in nursing.

Reactions and support

I could not be happier with my choice. I am so glad I look that leap of faith and ignored the doubts of my 17-year-old self. I am currently in my 3rd year of a general nursing course and the support I have received has been incredible. Some days can be tough where my stammer affects me but overall I would never let it affect my passion and love for nursing.  

One patient actually said to me, in response to me apologising for stammering: "It is the fact that you have a stammer that makes you such a great listener and compassionate nurse".

I let colleagues and patients know up front about my stammer — the simple act of sharing my secret makes me less anxious and ironically makes me stammer less and I now realise that the only thing holding me back was my fear of other people's reactions to my stammer. The reaction of patients has always been one of support and compassion. One patient actually said to me, in response to me apologising for stammering: "It is the fact that you have a stammer that makes you such a great listener and compassionate nurse". Hospital patients have all manner of hurdles to overcome on their journey to better health, and have actually expressed to me that having a nurse with a speech impediment care for them is like having someone who appreciates the challenges they are going through.

I still stammer a lot, and people still interrupt me, but I know that what I have to say matters and I continue regardless. I believe that having a stammer has helped me develop the compassion, listening skills and the ability to better appraise people and situations, all of which are vital qualities of a good nurse practitioner.

I haven't met any other nurses who stammer and I've always felt quite isolated, but the support on the wards always makes me realise how much I am appreciated. Next year I hope to complete my degree and internship to become a fully qualified nurse and I will not allow my fear of other people’s reactions to my stammer prevent me from accomplishing my goal. 

I am F-F-F-F Fabienne, I am your nurse today, and it just so happens I also have a stammer!

Read more stories from people who stammer in all sorts of careers.

Would you like to write an article about how you're getting on in your job? Email editor@stamma.org or see our Share Your Story page to find out how.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
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A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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