Nursing as an Introvert
It would be logical to think that extroverts would be the ones to excel in the world of nursing because the profession is all about relationships and communication with patients, families and doctors. However, introverts can fit well into the nursing field and give some of the best care and intuition around.
“Being a nurse was just something I wanted to do,” says Mary Tarbox, professor and chair of the department of nursing at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I consider myself an introvert and have seen many successful students of a similar personality do very well.”
She made her way through the training and schools by choosing a college rather than a nursing school. It gave her time to prepare for it and time to study. Many of her nursing classes helped her learn to communicate with all those that she would come into contact with as she became a nurse and continued on with her career.
“It can be intimidating to go in and talk to a patient. But you are taught to do that and how to respond to them. That is very helpful for introverts,” she says. “Many of the faculty members who are teaching nurses are often introverts themselves. I have seen that in the faculty here, and the ones that I had.”
Jennifer Doering, associate professor at University of Milwaukee College of Nursing, admits that she is an introvert, too.
“I didn’t choose to be a nurse. From six years old, I wanted to be an emergency room physician. But when I went to college, I had a reality check. I chose nursing and never looked back,” she says.
She realizes that silence isn’t valued in our society much.
“If you are quiet, people think there is an underlying quality that something is wrong. But it’s just the way we are and how we process things ourselves,” she says.
Doering read the 2012 book by Susan Cain titled: Quiet: The Power of Introverts . The book talked about how introverts can add a great deal of value and leadership to organizations even though the world heralds extroverts.
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Characteristics that Make an Introvert a Great Nurse
Better listeners - “When you let others speak and shine in a patient care situation, you can get a lot more data when you are excellent at listening,” Doering says. “You ask probing questions, and you aren’t talking about yourself.”
More observant – “When we are quieter, it allows us to be more observant and pick up on small clues that may be called intuition,” says Doering.
Keep your cool – Crisis situations can arise in health care settings, especially in fast-paced hospitals. Nurses with introversion tendencies can keep their cool no matter what goes down.
“You go about your business instead of getting wrapped up in it all,” explains Tarbox. “People then tend to lean on you because they trust you.”
Gives Patients Time to Think and Talk – “Silence creates space for things that are important in any healthcare setting. Silence allows a patient to process what you just said, and to share something they haven’t shared with anyone else,” Doering adds.
Team Player – You don’t want to be the center of attention, so you work well in a team. “It might not come as natural to be a strong team member, but you become quite effective once you get more acquainted with things around you,” Tarbox states.
Allows patients to be at ease – Your soft voice and soft approach puts your patients and their families at ease especially when the atmosphere is full of stress and the unknown.
Difficulties for Introverted Nurses
There are some disadvantages, too, for someone who is a nurse and an introvert. But both Tarbox and Doering both feel those things can be overcome with practice, familiarity and confidence building.
“Introverts might not be very talented in chit-chat or small talk with their co-workers. But their education can help them with their communication skills,” Tarbox says.
At first, it might be hard for co-workers to understand who you are and whether or not they can depend on you because you are so quiet, she adds.
“The essence of nursing, particularly in a hospital setting, is about teamwork. The team needs to know what you can do and who you are,” she says. “Besides professional interaction, they also need to see you in a social interaction.”
That means when a group of nurses go out to bowl or out for breakfast after a long shift, it will be up to the introvert to actually say “yes” to the invite and be part of the fun. You can use strategies such as rehearsing different subjects to bring up at a gathering instead of just standing there, Doering explains.
“The need for solitude may lead others to believe that you are aloof or unfriendly,” she says. “But introverts learn to perform. We can be so good at performing that people don’t know that we are introverts. I have a nurse face, like they talk about someone having a game face. I put it on to perform and do very well. I put that off when I go home.”
In fact, she worked two years in a Trauma 1 center.
“I learned to ‘fake it till you make it.’ I’ve used that my whole career. The first time I was put in front of 100 students, it was tough. But then one day, you realize you don’t have to fake it anymore, and you have the confidence to do it,” she says.
Nursing is a profession filled with surprises, great human emotions, constant changes and lots of people – all the things that introverts try to avoid. But introverts also can excel at being empathetic, calm, disciplined, great listeners and team players. They can become great leaders, teachers and people to trust in the nursing field.
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Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in Realtor.org, Nurse.org, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in Unigo.com.