Does Your Personality Match Your Nursing Specialty?

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


January 29, 2015

In This Article

Is There a Relationship Between Personality and Choice of Nursing Specialty: An Integrative Literature Review

Kennedy B, Curtis K, Waters D
BMC Nurs. 2014;13:40

The "Right" Personality?

Does a nurse's personality make him or her better suited to a particular specialty in nursing? That question has been asked, formally and informally, countless times over the decades since nursing evolved into a profession of specialties. In the beginning, nurses were just nurses. They were trained for private duty as well as hospital work, and if they showed an aptitude for leadership, they were quickly shuttled into administrative duties. That was about it. Personality traits mattered, but only when choosing nursing as a profession.

Now we do have specialties—lots of them—but new graduate nurses are discouraged from specializing too soon. This is partly to allow the nurse to gain some basic nursing skills, but it is also to allow new nurses some time to learn about their own strengths (and weaknesses) as a nurse, so that when the time comes to try out a specialty area, they will be more successful. The rule on specializing early has relaxed somewhat in recent years with the growing popularity of nurse residency programs. But without better matching of personalities (or temperaments, quirks, or traits—however you wish to view them) to specialty areas, valuable training time can be wasted while new nurses spend a year or two being oriented to work in areas to which they are poorly adapted for the long term.

This problem isn't limited to new graduates. Some nurses choose a certain specialty for utterly random reasons: It was the only job available on the day they applied, or their best friend worked in that unit. Some grow to love the discipline they chose, and some realize that they have entirely the wrong personality for the type of work they are doing. Everyone in nursing can cite an example or two of nurses who found themselves in such a situation at some point in their careers.

To concede that these nurses had the "wrong" personality for a certain specialty, one must also accept that there is a "right" personality. But is this true? Is there any evidence that nurses gravitate to certain specialties in nursing because of their personalities? Or that nurses are ineffective in other specialties for similar reasons?

To answer this question, Kennedy, Curtis, and Waters conducted an integrative review of the literature from 1965 through 2010 that reflected the current state of knowledge about the personality profiles of registered nurses according to clinical specialty areas of nursing practice. Basically, they hoped to discover whether any links existed between the personality characteristics of individual nurses and their chosen areas of specialty practice.

After a search and quality appraisal, their review included 13 studies that were primarily from the United States, had relatively small sample sizes, and used a variety of self-administered personality assessment tools.


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