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Are nurses expected to all have the same personality traits?


Student affairs editor, Alan, questions how much personality impacts on the learning opportunities afforded to student nurses when on placement

I want to write about another mentor-specific issue that I recently encountered, not one I’ve experienced myself but one a friend shared with me*. It relates to personality.

Anyone who has been on placement will be well aware of how personality can help or hinder our progress. Ideally, it should not hinder us at all, and we should expect to work in an environment where we are accepted for who we are. But too often reality bites and we find ourselves not having such an easy ride.

Personality can play a big part in the way people practice nursing, especially in a particularly social nursing environment. For example, those working in surgery may not need to consider this, but the rest of us are on show and often expected to play the part of gregarious and jolly human beings. For those who are gregarious and jolly, this comes naturally.

But consider those who are not so. Those people who are more reflective and empathic, who do not have a loud personality. Where does this leave them?

“We are often expected to play the part of gregarious and jolly human beings”

A good friend of mine encountered difficulties along these lines when her personality was found to be different to the personalities of the people she worked with. My friend, who takes more care and thought over her actions than I could ever hope to, was not appreciated nor were her unique insights and considerate nature seen as the assets that they are. They were unlike the attributes of her peers and colleagues, and thus, not understood.

Where an appropriate action might have been a meeting of minds and an appreciation of what each personality has to offer, it was instead deemed necessary to turn her into someone she is not.

“We seem unable to offer the same acceptance to those we work with”

Even as a student, I feel confident in saying that this approach was incorrect. As much as we are accepting of patients’ varying personalities, we seem unable to offer the same acceptance to those we work with.

One might wonder if it is necessary to behave in a particular way to become a successful nurse, yet I have seen a number who, though unassuming, manage their jobs with grace rather than song and dance. Their patients are grateful, yet the nurse is not gregarious or jolly. The same outcome is achieved in a different way.

Once again I am left to take this experience and hopefully use it to my advantage. I look forward to working with someone who’s approach is so different to my own, because they can fill gaps where I am lacking.

*I have been given permission to use events and themes discussed by the person this relates to


Readers' comments (2)

  • Fitting in with the team culture is not an issue specific to nursing, but as you point out, there is an expectation that as nurses, we should be more accepting of diversity. The truth is that underneath the professional veneer, we are only human beings, and team dynamics and individual personalities take over.There can be a real pressure for students to conform, specially (but not only) for the younger ones amongst us, who have a limited experience of the workplace. Mentors are here to share their knowledge and experience, and to assess our learning, however this does not include molding us into a different person. Sadly, some mentors may lack the emotional intelligence to cope with colleagues made of different stuff. There is a fine line between wanting people to change and bullying them, and when a whole team behaves as you describe, it sets alarm bells ringing for me.

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  • Is this really a personality issue or an issue of confidence?

    I don't have a loud character either but I've always managed to fit in with those types of personalities within a team. I think confidence and hard work plays a part in fitting in, so long as you're confident and conscientious about your work, people will soon learn to accept that you're a quieter person and will respect your hard work!

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