We all have different personality traits. Some of us are shy, while others are gregarious. Some of us are introverts who prefer our solitude (spend lots of time reading and thinking deeply about life), while others are extroverts who prefer to be stimulated by the outside world, frequently engaging in social events, networking, texting, etc.
In the field of nursing, you can find all types of personalities.
We recently received a great question regarding being a shy nurse. Here it is:
I am currently in my last year of high school and plan to go into nursing. I’m normally a shy person and have a very hard time speaking in front of an audience. I really want to go into nursing but I’m having my doubts about whether I can handle it or not. Blood doesn’t bother me, but I’ve never given a shot before. How do I know if it’s for me or not? Will I be able to handle it even though I have a hard time speaking in front of people? Thanks for your time!
Can Shy People Become Nurses?
Morgan, thanks for your fantastic question!
The wonderful thing about nursing is that there are so many opportunities available, and just about any personality type could be satisfied. I have worked with nurses who are extremely shy, introverted, and quiet. I have also worked with nurses who are outspoken, sociable, very talkative, etc.
Some areas of nursing are very communication intensive, and it would just about be impossible to do your job without talking to people regularly (I’ll explain more below). However, it is FAR different than speaking to an audience. Many people have that fear (in fact, I once read a study that most people were more afraid of public speaking than death!).
Other jobs within nursing, however, may require less interaction, and that may be something you are interested in doing as well.
So the short answer to your question is: YES, you can be a great nurse–even if you are shy. But rather than just tell you that you can succeed, I’d like to dig a little deeper and offer some suggestions on how you may want to approach the situation.
The Importance of Communication in Nursing
First just let me say that most floor or bedside nursing will require regular communication. As this type of nurse, you will be communicating with your patient (asking how they feel, looking for visual cues regarding their health, etc.). You will be communicating with co-workers on your floor/unit, calling doctors for orders or to alert them to a patient’s status, and more.
Again, let me just say that this is NOTHING like speaking to a crowd. This is one on one communication in most cases, just like you’d have at school with your friends.
I work in a cardiac stress lab, and I talk a lot! But I’ve never had to address an audience in the many years that I’ve worked as a nurse.
But if you are planning on becoming a type of nurse that works in a regular healthcare setting dealing with patients face-to-face, then you will definitely want to overcome your shy tendencies (I’ll give some tips on this later).
If, however, you are an extreme introvert, and you don’t really enjoy face-to-face communication, then there are other career possibilities in nursing that you may enjoy.
But regardless of which career you choose (nursing or something else), you will have to talk at least sometimes.
How Shy People Can Succeed In Nursing
The important thing to realize is that being shy is something that will go away once you get used to your situation. Paula Deen, the woman whose face you’ve probably seen on cookbooks, cookware, and television, used to be so shy and anxious that she used to carry around a brown paper bag in her glove compartment so she could breathe in it when she had a panic attack. She also avoided going to the supermarket and people in general for nearly 20 years! This form extreme anxiety and fear is sometimes labeled as “agoraphobia.”
Nevertheless, she was able to overcome this fear and anxiety and went on to have a very successful career in the limelight.
My point is this: If someone with such an extreme shyness can overcome that and be on national television, you could definitely overcome your shyness to become a great nurse.
How I Overcame Being Shy
The interesting thing about being shy is the more you are forced to be around people, the quicker your shy tendencies will evaporate. In contrast, the more you avoid social situations, the worse your shy tendencies will likely become.
When I started working as a nurse, I was afraid of talking to people. I’ve never been a terribly shy person, but I was still afraid I would mess up, say the wrong thing and look ignorant, and well..just afraid of a lot of things!
But I learned very quickly that I will have to talk to do my job. Pretty soon, my shyness was gone, and I found that I had no problems at all walking into a room and talking to a new patient, or calling a doctor to inquire about an order. Being forced out of my comfort zone had an effect to “reset” my shyness and pull me out of it.
I now have no problems walking into a room and being very friendly with a patient, or calling a doctor or supervisor.
Here are some tips I’ve found on the job that helped ease the discomfort of feeling awkward and shy:
- Smile–if you smile a lot, people tend to feel more comfortable around you. This will encourage them to talk to you, which in turn will make it easy to reply to them.
- Ask people questions–If you dislike small talk, and don’t want to talk about yourself much, my greatest strategy has been to simply keep asking people questions about themselves. Most people love to talk about themselves, their disease, etc. Once you get them talking, they will go on and on. Not only does this prevent me from feeling as if I have to talk about myself, but I’ve also met some truly fascinating people. Some people I’ve talked to have told me stories I’ll never forget. Some great starter questions include, “So, what do you do for a living,” or “How long have you been married,” or “Do you have any children?” I use those quite a bit, and it will open people up and they will then talk while I sit back and listen.
- Practice Talking–You can always practice a few conversations at home, or look at current news events for ideas for small talk for each day. This will allow you to initiate the conversations with confidence. Once you do this a few times, you will come out of your shell. Also, remember than working is different from other settings. It is normal to feel shy in a new class in school, or something else. But as a nurse, people come to you, and you are in charge. So the dynamics aren’t as bad as other potentially awkward situations.
- Make a friend–If you can make a friend or two with your co-workers, then life will feel much easier. Knowing them and talking with them day after day will make you feel at home, and you will feel very comfortable talking to new patients when they are around.
- Try to Focus Outwardly Instead of Inwardly–When we get into a rut of being shy, it is often due to the fact that we’ve become very inward focused. In other words, we are constantly analyzing the situation and worrying if we are good enough. It may be that you don’t want to sound stupid, or maybe you are afraid of failure or rejection, or whatever. Instead, try to start focusing on outward things. Try to concentrate on a patient’s needs, or a list of tasks you must get done. This will stop the inward thinking, and will reduce your shyness.
- Lastly, you could always seek a little counselling to get you out of your shy rut. Many people have gotten into a situation where they are super shy to the point of needing help. They got help, and then they got better. You don’t seem to be this shy, but if you ever get to this point, this could be of help to you.
Careers in Nursing With Less Communication
If you just absolutely hate frequent communication, then there are a couple of nursing careers that you may be interested in doing.
- A Nurse Technical Writer— In this case, you may write nursing publications, books, etc.
- Nursing Informatics–This deals with using technology in innovative ways to provide healthcare. In this situation, you may be working more with computers or sophisticated technical equipment, or researching ways to implement it. This is a rapidly emerging field in nursing that may have some interesting prospects in the future.
Conclusion: You Can Be a Shy Nurse
In conclusion, you can absolutely be a successful nurse and still be shy. Over time, your shyness will melt away and you will feel much more comfortable. It will be similar to how you feel now in high school (minus public speaking projects).
You will work one-on-one with patients, and you can easily overcome your shyness and even thrive on the job.
Nevertheless, even if you don’t want to be a floor nurse and deal with a lot of face-to-face communication, you could pursue other areas of nursing and still find a satisfying career.
Best wishes to you, and God bless.