Confessions of an Introvert
Some people think you have to be an extrovert to be a nurse. But here's my point of view: and it's one of a nurse introvert.
Being a Nurse Introvert
Introverts and extroverts really are hardwired differently. Sometimes I get questions from nursing students or those thinking about applying to - “I’m not an extrovert, can I do this?”
It’s a Spectrum
I’ll answer from my experience. I’m not always an introvert and I’m not always an extrovert. Most of us have a core tendency to one or the other, and my core tendency is that of an introvert.
In addition to “introvert” or “extrovert” categories, there are also “ambiverts”- people who fall midway on the introvert to extrovert spectrum.
So maybe if you are easily distracted (extroverted), private (introvert), but enjoy group conversations (extrovert) as well as listening more than speaking (introvert)...you are an ambivert!
Characteristics of a Situational Extrovert
But maybe you’re more of a situational extrovert, as I like to think of myself. A situational extrovert is an introvert with regular lapses of (charming and witty, again, I like to think) extroversion. As an introvert, I can adhere to (extroverted) societal norms, such as greeting strangers and indulging in chit chat. But it’s because I put myself out there, not because I always love it.
Ironically, I often speak in front of groups in my work life, and I’m an animated speaker, comfortable with performing and entertaining, even enjoying the spotlight. But once there’s a break in the presentation, I exit for the quiet of my office, avoiding the small talk of strangers.
It’s like the proverbial comedian who is one person on stage but another offstage. I can be the life of the party but only for 2.5 hours, like Cinderella. Then it’s over.
Small talk, the effortless skill of extroverts, is a bane for me. I don’t enjoy small talk, as it takes effort and the superficiality of it is tiring. I do admire those who are blessed with the gift.
There are some misconceptions and stereotypes about us introverts.
One misconception is that we are always quiet in groups. I typically speak up in meetings- I’m an introvert but also assertive. Likewise in groups, I am often a leader. But being talkative in a work group is not the same as being outgoing and social.
Introverts are typically reserved, and I am reserved at my core. But many people think I’m outgoing, because I definitely am at times. The difference is that after being highly sociable, I need to withdraw, restore, and recharge. After work, I need to fill up my tank. By being alone.
I love solitude and quiet and a calming spray mist, and lavender oil, and a good book.
Introverts are thought to be shy and retiring. I’m not sure about this one- I don’t think shyness is always an indicator of being an introvert. Sometimes I’m shy, but often I’m not. It’s more a function of how comfortable and self-confident I’m feeling.
Being shy and being tired from being around too many people (introvert) are different.
It’s About Energy
I’ve come to understand it’s really about where you get your energy. Introverts get their energy from, and even crave, deep one-to-one connection with others. Not lots of others- one or two is fine. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always had one or two best friends in my life.
Crowds and gatherings are tiring for us introverts-they deplete energy. Once I realized this, I’m now aware that simply being in a bustling crowd, not even speaking or interacting, draws my energy. After shopping in crowds, I need to rest up! I tell my husband that online shopping is therapeutic for me, and it’s true!
By contrast, extroverts recharge in groups of people. Saying “hello” to every hospital visitor, smiling, making eye contact walking down the hall and in the elevator. These things energize extroverts.
The nurse introvert restores her energy by patient teaching, or holding a hand. One of my favorite activities on Tele was pulling a femoral sheath after an angioplasty because it takes a half hour of dedicated time, alone with a patient, holding pressure on the femoral artery. One half hour to get to know my patient, their stories, care for them. It restored me rather than tired me.
It may be the same for extroverts-I can’t speak as well to extroverts...simply because I’m not one.
It’s About Connection
Another way of describing the energy is connection. Connection with others, usually on a one-to-one basis, feeds me. As a nurse, the opportunity for connection is endless.
Connection is not always verbal.
I remember a patient of mine, an elderly man with expressive aphasia who kept repeating something totally garbled and unintelligible. I tried to make out what he wanted but I couldn’t. He was getting more and more frustrated and so was I.
But then I stopped listening to his distracting verbage and listened instead to his being.
Suddenly I knew- he wanted his glasses! I didn’t hear it, I just knew it. He smiled crookedly and was so happy when I put them on him. But I think I was happier.
It was wonderful to transcend language and yet still understand and connect.
It’s About Caring
I’m also hard wired for empathy, which allows me to feel what others are feeling and connect through empathic experience.
Caring connections are at the essence of nursing. We are all so different and we each have different gifts we bring to our interactions with patients and others.
So to answer the above question “I’m an introvert, can I be a nurse?” As an introvert, I say “Absolutely”. And I'd love to work with you I may not attend every unit volleyball game or work fund raiser, but I'll be there for you when you need an ear or comfort.
Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job...and Your Next!"Last edit by Joe V on Oct 20, '17
About Nurse Beth, MSN, RN
Nurse Beth blogs at nursecode.com
Joined: Mar '07; Posts: 1,276; Likes: 3,840
Nursing Professional Development Specialist
20+ year(s) of experience in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, OrthoJul 20, '17I'm the kind of introvert that gets exhausted from a conversation that's 5 minutes long. One conversation can leave me feeling zapped for the day. I also don't get energy from empathizing with others. I'm empathetic, I just can only put so much energy out for others. I hardly have enough to keep myself going. I can make it through work and be perfectly happy without having a single conversation with my co-workers. Maybe I'm just on the extreme side of introverted lol
EDIT: I went back and fourth, as well, about whether or not I should go into nursing, being as "antisocial" as I am. I think I'd still love the work, and I also think it would benefit me to learn how to be more social. I think I might even feel more fulfilled, actually, despite my natural tendency to keep to myself.Jul 20, '17A lot of people are probably turned off from the nursing profession due to the "you have to be an extrovert to be a nurse" misconception which is a real shame. People usually don't really have a problem if you can explain in 5 words what could be said in a hundred. Your body language and compassion can easily make up for not being super bubbly and outgoing, as long as you listen to the patient and convey that you care about their concerns. There's no reason to not be genuine no matter how introverted you are, and patients are generally forgiving if you seem quiet but still concerned about them. in my experience
I helped a friend to the ER a few years ago and during the admitting history/physical the nurse barely even made eye contact with us. He was like a robot.....not that people like that don't have their place, but they can certainly get away with doing their job, and even excelJul 22, '17I'm an introvert but I love talking to my patients. I have a 1:3 ratio, which gives me more time with my patients. Put me with a large group of people and I'm done. Give me a one-on-one audience and I shine. The ability to intimately connect with people in a small ratio is what sets introverts apart.Jul 23, '17I have a question, Beth.
I have been an extrovert for most of my adult life. I REALLY thrive in the energy of groups, cohorts, neighbors, friends...everything. I feed off the vibe. Lately, I have been feeling less extroverted. I moved to a very different (for me) part of the country and I don't have the social outlets that I had in California. I stay at home, keep to myself and I am not making any friends. Is it possible to become an introvert? Am I just getting older and more mature? Or am I depressed?Jul 23, '17In life, I am an introvert. In nursing, I am considered an exrovert. Coworkers don't believe that I could "possibly" be an introvert because I'm so bubbly and talkative. But man, it's extremely exhausting day after day. I spend my days talking to patients, educating them and collaborating with teammates, etc. I love what I do. I feel like I throw everything out there to get the job done, to be the patient advocate, etc. On my days off, I am a total sloth. It is my time to rest, reset, and gear up for another week.Jul 23, '17Fantastic article! Thank you so much for writing it. I actually feel like you described me while describing yourself. Is nice to know that there are other nurses out there like me.Jul 23, '17At the end of the day we all need each other regardless if we are a inn-ie, out-ie or middle-ie because we all lack something but together we are the complete package.Jul 23, '17Quote from HeyloveIt sounds situational, driven by the change where you are living. Can you give it a test by checking how you feel next time you get to be in a group? and afterwards? Like "oh, yes, I needed that"...or not. You'll know.I have a question, Beth.
I have been an extrovert for most of my adult life. I REALLY thrive in the energy of groups, cohorts, neighbors, friends...everything. I feed off the vibe. Lately, I have been feeling less extroverted. I moved to a very different (for me) part of the country and I don't have the social outlets that I had in California. I stay at home, keep to myself and I am not making any friends. Is it possible to become an introvert? Am I just getting older and more mature? Or am I depressed?Aug 1, '17@Heylove
As people here in allnurses.com like to say so much, seek professional help. (Ugh, I always hated that.)(Sorry, this is my trying to be humorous. I know, I'm not funny.)
Back to the introversion, I've been always seen as on the extreme side of introversion but I do have my moments. I just can't stay quiet at the site of injustice etc. Apparently, i'm INFP. This leads me to a lot of trouble because I tend to push buttons on the system but I don't have the kissing of a** skills to follow up on it. I start fires but can't put them out. Small talk was and is never really my thing. I'm learning it now though.
Apparently a lot of people depends (unconsciously) on small talk to feel validated, I never knew until recently. In my case, it usually tires me out.Aug 1, '17I'm so much of an introvert that I am now debating how soon to put in my notice at work. As soon as I quit (and I may be the one who puts in a notice and then uses my PTO to cover it...I can't stand the thought of going back to work again) then I'll be putting my nursing license on inactive status. 3 years of my life wasted. I usually love talking to my patients but my coworkers could all disappear and I would be MUCH happier. I've tried to be social but I start feeling overwhelmed and physically sick. I envy those who have and will be able to make a career out of nursing but for patient safety sake I need to be done before I screw up and kill someone.
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