Surviving as an Introvert in a Hospital of Extroverts

It’s an extroverted world. Our lives revolve around social events, social media, open office environments, work teams, group activities and a perception that many always solve what few cannot. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, told NPR in 2012 we became this way at the turn of the 20th century, when we flocked to cities and adopted a culture of personality over character.1

As a laboratory professional, there’s a good chance you’re an introvert. This article considers surviving as an introvert in a culture of extroverts.

Introverts and Extroverts
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung first described introvert and extrovert (also called extravert) as personality types. Introverts are generally directed inward, extroverts outward. Modern theory recognizes that most people fall along a spectrum between Jung’s extremes, however, with ambiverts in the middle.2 The types are compared in Table 1.



? Draws energy from inward world of thought and reflection

? Tend to reflect, then act

? Tend to communicate by writing

? Often considered good listeners

? Drained by the outside world

? Energized by quiet, reflective environments

? Draws energy for external world of interaction and doing

? Tend to act, then reflect

? Tend to communicate by talking

? Often considered good talkers

? Drained by inactivity

? Energized by interaction with people and things

Table 1: Introverts vs. Extroverts13

Causes of introversion remain controversial. “Introverted personality” has been listed in the WHO manual as a disease and was proposed in 2010 by the American Psychiatric Association for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to classify mental illness.3 But German psychologist Hans Eysenck has proposed a theory of differences in cortical arousal to account for this normal variation: introverts are more easily aroused, according to Eysenck.4 Latest studies support a notion that brains of introverts and extroverts are indeed different. A 2012 Harvard and 2013 Cornell study both found introverts tend to devote more brain power to abstract pondering than extroverts, possibly because of differences in brain structure.5

While most of us display a mix of introverted and extroverted behaviors depending on the situation, we each have a tendency to one type. There are online quizzes that are fun to take and informative.6,7 But thinking about your own experience is a good indicator, too. Introverts find interacting with people exhausting and draining. Extroverts, by contrast, are energized by other people. Which one are you?

Introverts in the Lab
Far from being a personality disorder, introverts account for half the population.8 Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks, Charles Darwin, Al Gore, and Albert Einstein are introverts.9 As a laboratory professional, there’s a good chance that you and your coworkers are too.

Introverts and extroverts naturally seek professions to suit their personalities. For example, an introvert who is recharged by solitude and exhausted by people will gravitate towards a job working alone with minimal human contact. A recent CareerBuilder survey supports this idea, revealing professions suited to each personality type – a few of which are listed in Table 2. It isn’t a stretch to add “Laboratory Technologist” to the left hand column.



? Artist

? Engineer

? Chef

? Physician

? Information technology

? Machine operator

? Mechanic

? Writer

? Scientist

? Construction

? Pharmacist

? Therapist

? Event planner

? Nurse

? Advertising professional

? Police officer

? Firefighter

? Sales representative

Table 2: Professions for Introverts and Extroverts14

Fact is: the laboratory profession is designed for introverts – solitary work, autonomous decisions, minimal patient contact and meticulous documentation. It is an introverted silo in a hospital culture of extroverts who may not recognize your quiet power and expertise.

Survival Tips
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to not just survive but thrive in an extroverted hospital culture, starting with debunking myths about introversion:10

– Introverts are shy: these are completely different traits. Shyness is a fear of public humiliation; introversion is a preference for minimally stimulating environments.

– Introverts are poor public speakers: many introverts are great public speakers, using their quiet strength to prepare well beforehand.

– Introverts are less happy than extroverts: introverts are just happy in different ways, preferring tranquility and relaxation.

– You’re either introverted or extroverted: most people fall somewhere in the middle, and either type can behave as the other.

While you may find solitary bench work rewarding and energizing, as an introvert you find group activities, meetings and patient contact draining. It takes less effort to over-stimulate an introvert and more energy to behave in an extroverted fashion. Understanding your strengths will help in interactions with others. Here are tips suggested by Susan Cain:11

– Find spaces for quiet and solitude: this can be a problem in laboratories with an open design. Ask your boss for a variety of assignments in departments away from the main workflow, such as microbiology.

– Check in with co-workers: introverts typically find small talk tedious, but it’s important to socialize. Regular hospital rounding to check on laboratory issues at nursing stations is a good start. It’s okay to limit your time, recognizing that talking and socializing are energizing for extroverts but draining for introverts.

– Avoid meetings: introverts can be valuable team members but typically don’t do their best thinking in meetings. Introverts tend to gather data and reflect before making a decision.

– Don’t be afraid to lead: extroverts can grab the limelight quickly, but studies suggest that introverted leaders get better results. Introverted leaders are more likely to listen to and implement the ideas of their teams.

– Take breaks to recharge: occasional pauses are crucial for introverts to maintain focus and positivity. Introverts can quickly feel overwhelmed and burned out in stimulating environments, particularly with digital distractions.

Above all, there is no reason to pretend to be extroverted in your hospital culture. Not only do most people fall closer to the middle of the spectrum, it’s probable that some of the nurses are introverts. (Blogger Lauren George at Marian University points out five reasons why introverts make great nurses.12) Make connections with extroverts to help bridge the culture gap. And remember to be honest at meetings; if you need time away from members to process information before making a decision, say so. Most extroverts may not understand introversion but are open to listening.

Whether you volunteer for a hospital committee or public speaking engagement – possibilities that could make an introvert shudder with horror at the thought – there are many other opportunities to interact with extroverts in your hospital, promoting the strengths of yourself and the laboratory profession. Physicians, who tend to be introverts, may understand more than most. By reaching outward and leaving time and space to recharge, you can survive being an introvert, ultimately leading to greater job satisfaction and better patient care.

Scott Warner is lab manager at Penobscot Valley Hospital, Lincoln, ME.


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11. Gregoire C. An Introvert’s Guide To Surviving (And Thriving) In The Workplace. The Huffington Post. 2013. Available at: Accessed September 28, 2014.

12. George L. 5 Reasons Introverts Make Great Nurses. Mariannursingcom. 2014. Available at: Accessed September 28, 2014.

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