Does Your Personality Match Your Nursing Specialty?

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


January 29, 2015

In This Article

Findings: Personality and Nursing Specialty

The specialty areas that have received the most attention from researchers to date are critical/intensive care, emergency nursing, and oncology. Some of the key findings about nurses' personality traits in different specialty areas, when compared with population norms, are:

Oncology, emergency, and renal specialty studies find that a larger proportion of these nurses demonstrate the personality trait of introversion. Introversion refers to being task-oriented, independent, and diligent, preferring to work alone, and maintaining control over one's environment.

Critical care nurses scored higher on dominance, rebelliousness, and self-sufficiency than population averages. Self-sufficiency refers to a preference for making independent decisions. Critical care nurses also scored lower on emotional sensitivity and imagination.

Oncology and palliative care nurses scored lower on self-sufficiency (preferring to work with others rather than alone), but high on emotional sensitivity, the only factor that fell outside of the population norm. Emotional sensitivity refers to being aware of one's own feelings, compassionate and understanding.

Few studies compared nurses from different nursing specialties with each other. One such study[1] reviewed by Kennedy and colleagues compared personality and anxiety levels between intensive care and medical/surgical nurses, finding that a higher proportion of intensive care nurses identified themselves as "thinkers" (65.9% vs 41.8%). The thinker trait means that the individual takes a logical and objective, rather than an emotional, approach to decision-making.

Kennedy and colleagues concluded that their review suggests that differences in personality might exist among nurses who choose to work in different specialty areas. The finding of a range of personality characteristics within a nursing specialty might simply reflect the diversity within the nursing workforce and the fact that people have different ways of managing information and making decisions. Furthermore, the literature suggests that personality differences are associated with levels of job satisfaction and stress and/or burnout among nurses.

They acknowledge that personality testing is not in wide use now within the nursing profession, but it has the potential for usefulness in the recruitment of nursing staff suited to particular specialties. This would require the establishment of valid and reliable methods of personality assessment for nurses. They caution that personality testing should not be used to prevent nurses from working in a particular clinical area, but to facilitate targeting of nurses more suited to certain specialties. Furthermore, the evidence base requires updating to reflect the needs of the current healthcare environment.


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