Nursing Skills

Social Skills in Nursing: Is Introversion a Non-starter?

Nursing SkillsJune 17, 2016

So, you want to become a nurse, but you worry that you’re a little introverted to do the job well. In nursing school, you get taught that nursing is a vocation that requires frequent social interactions. Effortlessly talking with people, reading their non-verbal cues, and other advanced social skills would all appear to be important for nursing success. After all, communication is clearly important to the job.

But not everyone is extroverted. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to be an extrovert to do well as a nurse. Some fine nurses might even describe themselves as introverted and shy. That’s okay. You can make it work. Your reticence to engage in or initiate small talk may actually be appreciated by some, especially patients who are feeling poorly, who may not feel up to casual social interactions (small talk).

We Need Introverts, Too

Books have been written detailing the power of introverts in a world populated with non-stop chatter. In our society, extroverts tend to be celebrated. Conversely, one could argue that introverts are actually undervalued in our society. The world takes all kinds, and both personality types have important qualities to offer.

With the recent rise in the ubiquitous presence of cell phones and smart phones, people’s constant chatter appears to be invading once-sacrosanct retreats, such as churches, stores, queues, and even restroom stalls. We’re all subjected to intimate details about total strangers’ lives—whether we like it or not—on a more or less constant basis.

Given this constant barrage of overheard conversations and unwilling eaves-dropping on private interchanges, there’s a new appreciation for introverts and what they can bring to the table: namely, some respectful peace and quiet, and the sense that when they do speak, it is truly meaningful. It’s often been said that the best way to grab and hold someone’s attention is not to shout—but to whisper. Quieter folks can even engender an aura of wisdom and willingness to listen, which may not be the case with people who never seem to stop talking long enough to catch their breath.

Communication is Key 

So, no, if you’re considering applying to nursing school, or enrolling in online nursing school, there’s no reason why you should allow your perceived introversion to hold you back. While you will be required to interact with people—including patients, other nurses, doctors, and other support personnel—there’s no reason why you cannot become a competent, respected member of the healthcare team. 

With any luck, you’ll be recognized for your refreshing thoughtfulness and admirable habit of not chattering constantly. Medicine is serious business, and patients often feel especially vulnerable, as they’re interacting with you during a time in their lives when they’re feeling exceptionally poorly. Pain, uncertainly, fear—these are all feelings that tend to bring out the worst in people. A little sensitivity to this fact will doubtless be appreciated.

Will your social reticence affect your effectiveness? Perhaps a better question is this: does the fact that you’re a little shy or socially awkward mean you can’t muster any genuine concern for your patients’ health and safety? Of course not. And there’s your answer. You can learn to engage in the essential interchanges that will allow you to do your job effectively. Communication is obviously important in the context of any healthcare team. As long as your introversion doesn’t affect your ability to communicate effectively, when necessary, there’s not a problem. Leave the small talk and chatter to your more gregarious colleagues. There’s room for both of you in the workplace.