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Personalities in Nursing

Yin and Yang, light and dark, are two very different sides of the same coin. Personalities in nursing are diverse and represented by a wide spectrum. But does your underlying personality impact what area of nursing you should pursue or maintain? In a word, probably. While nursing as a whole requires some universal personality characteristics (attention to detail, multi-tasking, effective communication skills) to name a few, nurses in a specialty field may be better served by certain personality traits. There are a million stereotypes, some hysterical memes, and some truth behind them all, not all personality types necessarily work well for every nursing specialty. As these assumptions become more engrained within professional practices, and HR recruiters are increasingly utilizing personality tests and psychometric aptitude tests to make informed hiring decisions. That fact, opens up the world of conflicting beliefs, potential discrimination, and shattered plans of those that desire to work in a field that wants to exclude or include them based on a personality test.

According to an article in BMC Nursing, personality tests are being used, in addition to psychometric and aptitude tests, when placing nurses into roles during the recruitment process. However, the jury is out on exactly how useful these tests are. The article goes on to state that just a few of the concerns with personality testing would include cultural or gender discrimination, not to mention the ever-present concern of false or coached results and the lack of direct correlation between test results and position success. Specifically, BCM goes on to state, “Personality testing has the potential to play a role in the recruitment of nursing staff suited to a particular specialty, just as it has been considered in some medical fields, such as anesthesia. It is recognized that there is still considerable work that needs to be done in order to establish the usefulness of personality testing, including establishing valid and reliable methods of personality assessment, before it is to be incorporated in recruitment practices within the healthcare profession.” In other words, the use of personality testing should, at a minimum, be executed with exceptional oversight and recognition of its fallibility.

In addition to these risks, a very real question exists. With the current nationwide nursing shortage, can the profession afford to turn away willing and skilled nurses because their personalities do not mesh with what a personality test deems is an appropriate position? In a word, no. But could there be a place for personality profiles? The BMC article goes on to state, “Personality profile information may also be used to further explore stress/burnout and job satisfaction within defined nursing specialty areas for the purpose of improving retention.” This application may be the more prudent and conservative approach in today’s environment.

In fact, according to BCM, “If employees possess the personality characteristics that are best suited to the job, this will likely result in improved workplace efficiency, job satisfaction and retention of staff. All of these factors, in turn, have the capacity to influence the quality of care delivery. Clearly, identified personality characteristics linked to stress and burnout have the potential to enable appropriate interventions and plans to be put in place to assist in improving the nurses’ ability to deal with workplace stressors. This, in turn, would assist to reduce staff turnover in stressful work environments.”

In taking a look at two specific nursing specialties and the generally agreed-on personality traits most suited to each, we can see not only the overlap, but distinct personality features that might be different between the two specialties that would make those with personality traits.

Anticipated Personality Traits for Effective Emergency Nurses

photo of er nurses

Based on an article from Best Master of Science in Nursing, Emergency nurses would include those who typically work within trauma centers or ambulatory settings such as ambulances, helicopters, or urgent or emergency care centers. The environment is one of constant stress, movement, noise, and time-sensitive crises that require an immediate and thorough assessment of their nature. Given both the workload and the nature of the work, the Emergency Nurses Association states, “it takes special personality traits to be an emergency room nurse and retain the job while enjoying it.” Key personality traits listed by the Emergency Nurses Association include:

  • Accelerated Work Pace: While emergency rooms may ebb and flow from a traffic standpoint, when the flow turns into a cascade, nurses must be able to efficiently and quickly increase their work pace while not sacrificing the quality of care, not an easy balance. ENA states it perfectly, “Emergency room nurses have to be able to think and make decisions quickly in life-or-death situations, because even a fraction of a second makes a difference. This also requires them to be able to look at the current state of a patient and assess what the patient needs or doesn’t need accurately.”
  • Remaining Calm When the Environment is Chaotic: Whether it is a mass-casualty-event, multi-car pileup, or a holiday that inspires overconsumption of recreational substances, emergency rooms are the hub of chaos when a community is at its worst. From calming irate or overly-emotional or controlling patients to diffusing conflict, nurses control the temperature during times of patient care and must remain calm and collected, despite the environment being disruptive and toxic.
  • Multitasking: Emergency room nurses, as with any nurses must maintain absolute organization at all times. Balancing patient and doctor needs, handling high-maintenance family members, and dealing with near constant disruptions is simply all day, every day. Depending on the setting, nurses may have dozens of patients to care for at any given time. Each of these patients must feel heard and cared for, while still prioritizing those with the greatest medical needs. Multitasking is not just a feature of emergency nurses, it must be part of their DNA.
  • Agreeable, Extroverted, and Open: According to a 2014 survey conducted by The University of Sydney, “agreeableness, extroversion, and openness are characteristics that stand out among emergency room nurses compared to the general public. They need the ability to communicate with patients in an honest and direct manner while remaining friendly and sociable.” But sociability must be balanced against the knowledge that each patient needs regular and thorough assessment as to their current needs and risk. Being able to convey to patients, that others may need to be prioritized over them, while not creating a sense of alienation or anger, is art.
  • Good Coping Skills: Trauma or emergency nurses cannot internalize. The job will, in short order, destroy them if they do. Be it dealing with loss from traumatic injury, or unstable individuals impacted by mental illness or drugs, nurses must find the path to care about their patient’s outcomes, without letting it define who they are and how capable they are at their roles. Being able to identify what “problems” are driven by patients and what can be controlled, is difficult at best.

Within the field, perhaps considered the polar opposite of emergency or trauma nurses (based on typical personality stereotypes), would be Labor and Delivery Nurses. According to an article:

Anticipated Personality Traits for Effective L&D Nurses

photo of labor and delivery nurses helping a new mother

  • Empathy: perhaps nothing brings quite as much emotion into the room as bringing a new life into the world. The overwhelming joy when it goes well, and the absolute heartbreak when it doesn’t, all falls upon the strong shoulders of Labor and Delivery nurses. Empathy at all times is key to maintaining control and balance within the labor and pre-labor rooms.
  • Calmness: labor, and delivery is a rollercoaster. Certainly, not every pregnancy will be a wanted one, not every woman is keeping her child, and not every labor will go smoothly or without errors or injuries. No matter what happens during labor, nurses must remain calm and diffuse the very strong emotions that accompany giving birth for the sake of the mother and her baby.
  • Relationship-building: giving birth may be primarily on the mother, but the successful and peaceful delivery process is a team effort. Nurses weave the needs of the patient with the requirements of the baby, relaying key information and making sure everyone involved in L&D is working to the same end, a safe and secure delivery.
  • Sense of humor: L&D nurses must be able to engage appropriately and professionally using humor. There is no more personal and invasive procedure as delivering a baby. Women feel vulnerable, and exposed and are in excruciating pain. Levity, when used well, can make the experience one to look back on and smile.
  • Cultural competency: cultures wildly differ on the social norms and protocols of giving birth. Understanding and appreciating different cultural norms is crucial to a smooth delivery experience.

It becomes apparent, reading through the adjectives of these two diverse nursing positions, that personalities that flourish in one, may not flourish in the other. Neither position is better than the other, both are highly sought after positions with incredibly talented and driven individuals who bring exactly what is needed to their respective teams. But placing the right personality in the right position would certainly be likely to increase patient satisfaction as well as reduce turnover and frustration.

So, is there a place for personality testing in nursing? Maybe, however, instead of wielding personality tests like a weapon, as a method to exclude or include candidates, recruiters, and HR managers can utilize them as a tool to help nurses find their perfect fit. By working collaboratively to determine if burnout or diminished performance could be addressed by moving to a different specialty, more compatible with underlying personality traits, perhaps nurse retention can be increased. No matter what the future holds, nursing will continue to be home for those who all have one thing in common, a drive to help people and make the world a little bit better.

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