How I Overcame Work Challenges as an Introverted Nurse

An introverted nurse rests on a couch

Initially, I didn’t think I would be cut out to be a good nurse. Yet it is because I’m an introvert that I have excelled.

I never wanted to become a nurse. 

For one, I always thought being a nurse meant carrying so much responsibility on your shoulders, that even one little mistake could be disastrous. And secondly, and also more importantly for me, being a nurse meant I had to interact with people all day — every single day

As an introvert, I just couldn’t imagine a lot of things that came with the job — including having to make small talk with patients and colleagues, dealing with emotional family members, and being a patient’s advocate and standing up to doctors when situations called for it. I always thought that being a nurse would definitely require some degree of extroversion, what with the amount of time you had to be with people. 

Surely an introvert like me would never make the cut. I convinced myself that I’d probably never enjoy it, and that I would not be good at it. Boy, was I wrong in so many ways.

An Introvert in an Extroverted Job

Fast forward to many years later. I ended up with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and my being a nurse has opened up so many doors for me. And I don’t mean just career-wise. I got to travel halfway across the world because of it, and it has forced me to break out of my shell and grow into the person I am now. And, more surprisingly, I genuinely love being a nurse and find so much meaning in it.

Of course, all this didn’t happen overnight. The first couple of years did consist of various challenges. Colleagues constantly asked me why I was so quiet. I had to awkwardly try to make small talk with patients as I got them ready for procedures. And there were moments of regret for not speaking up when I could, and should, have. 

However, in those many years, I have taken note of how I somehow managed to make this job work for me. So much so that today I can honestly say that yes, one can be an introvert with an “extrovert” career, be good at it, and also enjoy it. Here are some tips if you’re thinking about a more stereotypically extroverted job or career, too.

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5 Tips to Thrive as an Introverted Nurse 

1. Make sure to learn a thing or two from your extroverted colleagues.

I always had trouble starting conversations with people I’d just met. Talking about the weather, or some shallow topic, not only made me cringe inside, but it also made me feel like I was being fake. No, I’m not really interested in how you feel about the weather. But, then again, I can’t just jump right into something more personal, like asking you if you’re finding joy in how you’re living right now, can I?

In my line of work, I meet a number of different patients every single day. In the beginning, I didn’t quite know how to create rapport with them. I began observing my extroverted colleagues who seemed to be naturals at it. I took note of the kind of topics they would start with, and how they make patients feel comfortable around them, and began trying them out for myself. 

Much to my surprise, the more I did it, the easier it became — and now it comes so naturally. I realized that people generally want to talk about themselves, and many patients I met were scared or apprehensive about their conditions or the procedures they were about to undergo. So I started to put myself in their shoes and thought about how I would want my nurse to alleviate my fears if I were in their position. 

Another asset? Introverts are good listeners and can gauge people very well. I found this was something I was naturally good at, and that helped to make for a more meaningful interaction with my patients. And even though I started off faking my way through it, I’ve since discovered I have a natural knack for making patients feel at ease around me.

2. Find strength in the bigger picture, like being your patients’ advocate.

When I was in nursing school, our teachers kept emphasizing that we’d need to be the patient’s advocate. This is a beautiful, poetic term which means that you need to step up and put your foot down when you feel that something about to be done is not in the best interest of your patient. 

Confrontation isn’t fun for anyone, but especially for introverts, who find it quite draining. Yet, as an introverted nurse acting as a patient’s advocate, confrontations aren’t something I can avoid, especially when it involves the welfare of my patients. On numerous occasions, I found myself questioning a colleague’s clinical judgment. I’d force myself to put on a brave face, look them in the eye, and say no without faltering. 

I am proud of myself for having been able to do this, but in all honesty, it has taken me years to muster the courage to. In my earlier days, I’d avoid such situations or would rely on someone more brave to handle it… only to be filled with regret later on because I’d feel that I failed my patients (in more ways than one). 

A colleague of mine once pointed out that at the end of the day, I am only looking after my patients and making sure they are safe. If it were my mom or dad who was the patient, wouldn’t I want their nurse to speak up bravely for them? So whenever I find myself in situations like this, where I want to avoid confrontation because it’s uncomfortable or might create conflict with a colleague, I remember this conversation. I remind myself that if I don’t stand up for my patient now, who will?

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

3. Find a small circle of supportive colleagues and mentors.

Introverts tend to keep a small circle of trusted friends. For me, the same applies in the workplace. I work in a very large department with all kinds of different personalities. Although I generally get along well with everyone, I do keep a small circle of supportive colleagues that I can trust; I know they will have my back. Nursing is a really demanding job, and having a support system is crucial, especially for your mental health

Having a mentor is equally as important, because they have a great deal of knowledge, skills, and experiences you could learn from. And I don’t just mean with the clinical and technical aspect of nursing, but with the social and soft-skills aspects, as well (which introverts tend to find more challenging). I have often turned to my mentors to give me advice about things like how to deal with a passive-aggressive colleague, how to resolve conflicts among my peers, or how to approach a particularly intimidating senior staff member.

4. Make time to recharge and recalibrate your social battery.

Being a nurse is not only demanding physically, it’s also mentally, emotionally, and psychologically draining. We all know that introverts need some quiet alone time to recharge their batteries. But this is especially true when their job is one that really takes a great toll on them. Many nursing specialties are either fast-paced and set in high-stress environments or require a lot of patient interaction day in and day out. This can easily lead to burnout if an introverted nurse doesn’t pace herself. 

I learned this the hard way when, for a couple of weeks one year, instead of taking my usual quiet “me-time” on my days off, I continued to engage in social activities even when my instincts were telling me not to. I ended up extremely exhausted and burnt out and had to call in sick for two weeks because I could no longer function physically and mentally. 

Because of that, I am now very conscious when I plan my social calendar outside of work, and turn down social engagements when necessary. I also practice meditation regularly, journal daily, and go on retreats a few times a year. On top of that, when I find myself struggling more than usual, I reach out to a counselor or a mental health coach who helps me get back on track.

Many nurses are often so busy taking care of others, they forget to take care of themselves. But remember, it’s important to pause and take the time to refill your own cup, because when you do, you’ll have more to give to others.

5. Get out of your comfort zone now and then (even if you really don’t want to).

There have been a few times during my nursing career when I have passed up certain opportunities, thinking I am not good enough or that surely they aren’t suitable for me because I’m an introvert — and I am too this or too that

Over time, however, I have come to realize that I was simply scared to take a risk, and was just making up excuses by hiding behind my introverted persona. I realized that if I continued to do so, I wouldn’t be doing myself justice. Nor would I be giving justice to the junior nurses I’m mentoring, the patients I’m looking after, and the department I’ve invested so much of myself in.

I have managed to turn myself around with a simple change in mindset. Whenever I find myself teetering on the edge of my comfort zone and start questioning my capabilities, I pause and ask myself, “What am I learning from this situation, and how will I take this forward?” 

This has helped me let go of mistakes I’ve made and stopped me from letting my impostor syndrome, which is pretty common among introverts, get the best of me.

It’s really quite ironic how I didn’t think I would be cut out to become a good nurse because I’m an introvert. Yet, because I went ahead and became a nurse, I managed to break out of my shell of self-imposed introvert limitations. I could only look back at how starting my nursing career so many years ago was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and plays to all my introvert strengths.

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