When I graduated from nursing school, I was slightly overwhelmed with the abundant specialty areas that I could explore as a nurse.
I didn’t feel like my schooling gave me enough exposure to the vast array of selections that were available. I graduated with a question swirling around in my head: what specialty best combines my interests with my personality and skill set?
School had given me a taste of community health, mental health, pediatrics, labor and delivery, and general in-patient settings. But I still left school without a true inkling for where I might fit best. (Thus, my current status as a float nurse. I’m still trying to figure it out.)
As a float nurse, I see and experience a wide variety of specialties. Each office I work in has a different feel to it, largely due to the fact that similar personalities seem to inhabit similar specialty areas.
The nurses who work in orthopedics have distinctly different characteristics than the nurses who work in pediatrics.
When I walk into ortho, I know that I will be working alongside both men and women who are young, fit, and live extremely active lifestyles. My conversations with them will revolve around one’s latest marathon training or what bike route to tackle after work is done for the day.
On the other hand, my days in pediatrics are much different, since the majority of the nurses in that office are mothers. The personalities of the pediatric office are maternal and comforting. I find myself in the midst of wisdom that comes from years of experience in the medical field. The pediatric nurses are more laid back, taking patient care with a steady, calculated demeanor.
So how does personality play a role in choosing a nursing specialty?
Are there patterns in personality within certain subsets of nursing?
Can I discover where I might fit best based on research?
I found an article from 2014 entitled “Is there a relationship between personality and choice of nursing specialty: an integrative literature review” by Belinda Kennedy, Kate Curtis, and Donna Waters. I’m a big fan of literature reviews since they take a number of articles (in this case, 13 total) and analyze them for themes. I think it provides a more comprehensive understanding of the existing literature. Obviously, the article is now five years old, but this is still relatively recent in the world of research so I decided to use it as a tool for my inquiry.
I highly recommend searching for the article and reading it in full, but I don’t mind summarizing it for you here. Just a forewarning: the article presents no magic answers.
Personality Trait Tests
I finished the article in disappointment, foolishly hoping that by the end I would have a neat list of personality traits for each nursing specialty and be on my way to the area in which I would shine for years to come. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Regardless, I discovered some interesting tidbits that I’d love to explore a bit more.
Many of the included studies used tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and the Personal Style Inventory to measure personality traits (aspects of one’s self that remain constant over time).
I’d like to focus on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) findings, which look at the personality characteristics of an individual over four dimensions: introversion/extraversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perception. After an individual takes the MBTI, a four-letter combination is used to encapsulate his or her personality.
Before I relay the results of the review, I want to mention that personality analysis is not an exact science. The MBTI, in particular, is based on the test-takers’ self-report. It could be argued that the results are skewed based on the individual’s motivations behind taking the test.
Several studies seemed to suggest that emergency, oncology and renal nurses had introversion tendencies. Introverts prefer to process information internally.
For the second dimension of the MBTI personality test, many nurses seemed to prefer sensing over intuition. A sensing preference means that individuals understand and evaluate their world by taking in information through the five senses.
The third MBTI personality aspect deals with the tendency of thinking or feeling. One study showed that intensive care nurses were significantly more likely than general medical-surgical nurses in following thinking tendencies rather than feeling tendencies in situations. In other words, ICU nurses are more likely to be objective, using facts to influence decisions instead of emotions.
None of the results discussed the final component of the MBTI, judging vs perception, so I’m not able to relay related findings on that aspect.
Obviously, I had to see how my Myers Briggs personality type stacked up against some of the findings here. My four-letter combination is INTJ.
Similar to the studies reviewed, I am a nurse with introvert tendencies. I prefer to work independently and have time to process the information I am presented with inside my head before acting. Unlike the majority of nurses in the article, I lean towards intuition over sensing. I would rather perceive my world based on the underlying principles (I trust these more than my five senses).
Similar to many of the studied nurses, I am a thinker: objective data is key for informing my nursing actions. While the study does not discuss the fourth and final aspect of personality, I think an organized lifestyle (a “J” preference) is vital for ensuring quality patient care in a health care setting.
Personality testing is not an exact science, and there a multitude of factors that go into why a certain personality would work well in a particular specialty (e.g. co-workers, work environment, personal health, job demands). However, I find it amazing that more research into good personality-career matches could promote successful and sustainable nursing jobs.
The literature review noted that the existing studies are limited by small sample size, so more and larger studies devoted to studying nursing career satisfaction alongside nursing personalities could unlock uncharted territory. The article by Kennedy et al. (2014) ended as most research articles do: looking towards the future. In this case, the possibilities of future personality research are quite exciting.
A good match of personality and job placement can affect job satisfaction, burnout, and ultimately retention rates.
Kennedy, B., Curtis, K., & Waters, D. (2014). Is there a relationship between personality and choice of nursing specialty: an integrative literature review. BMC Nursing, 13(1), 40. doi:10.1186/s12912-014-0040-z