Surviving and Thriving in the OR as an Introvert


Starting in any new role as a nurse can be challenging, and that is especially true in the OR. The learning curve is steep and there are new roles to learn and new faces, and even a new vocabulary that needs to be mastered. Coming into this environment as an introvert can add a whole extra level of complexity. Introverts are often perceived as shy, withdrawn, quiet, and unassuming, which are traits that are in stark contrast with those needed for success in the OR. The reality though is that introverts possess skills, such as active listening, attention to detail, and reflective thinking, that can bring depth and diversity to the perioperative team.1 It is very possible for introverts to survive and thrive in the OR.

Learning Needs

If you consider yourself to be introverted, it is important to understand how your introverted qualities can affect you as a learner (Table 1) and how you can communicate your needs to others to ensure your success. Approximately 75% of the population are extroverts, who are known for being sociable and energized by other people.2 Introverts obtain their energy from within themselves and can have their energy drained from extended active contact with others.2 Many nurses begin their careers in the OR with intensive and immersive training programs that require them to work closely with other nurses, instructors, and preceptors.  

Many introverted learners struggle with traditional educational methods and have experienced lifelong frustrations and anxiety with instructional environments methodized to fit the dominant number of extroverted learners.1 Being in a learning environment that isn’t suited to your needs can increase anxiety. It can be said that this anxiety, on some levels, is just a part of being a nurse new to the OR; however, increased and prolonged anxiety can impair learners’ confidence, critical-thinking skills, attention to tasks, and thinking processes.1 One important way to decrease anxiety is to communicate your needs as an introvert to your preceptors and colleagues. When working with a new preceptor, try to set aside a few moments at the start of the day to openly discuss with them how you learn and process new information, as well as how you prefer to give and receive feedback.

Table 1. A Comparison of Introverts and Extroverts

Tips for Introverts in the OR

There will, of course, be times in the OR when situations do not allow for the optimal or perfect conditions to learn, and patient safety dictates what is done. However, there are ways to set yourself up for success.

  • When working with a new team, don't be afraid to let them know you identify as an introvert or that you have some introverted personality traits. Let them know that when you're quiet, it doesn't mean you're not engaged, but rather that you are actively learning, processing, and working things through within yourself.
  • Keep in mind for yourself that while your tendency may be to completely think things through before communicating them, ideas and thoughts not fully formed still have value. Challenge yourself to communicate at times you might not normally feel comfortable by using phrases like, "I am thinking out loud," or "Bear with me as I try to articulate my thoughts."3
  • If you need more time to think something through, don’t assume your preceptors or colleagues know that! Express that you’re still working through things by using a phrase like, “I am still processing – can you get back to me?”3
  • Don’t be afraid to let new colleagues or preceptors know that, while you appreciate all they do to ensure your success and help you learn, there may be days when you’d do better taking a break alone to allow yourself time to quietly recharge.
  • Take time at the end of your day to speak one-on-one with your preceptors or colleagues to check in and discuss how a particular day or situation went, allowing yourself the comfort and space to communicate in a quieter moment.

Thriving as an introverted OR nurse is possible through awareness and communication. Providing patients with the safest, most-effective, competent care is achieved in part by offering a diverse workforce, and that diversity is enhanced by the skills and traits introverted members of the team can offer.

A Famous Introvert

Florence Nightingale is often referred to as the founder of modern nursing, the embodiment of what a nurse should strive to be. Her name is regularly invoked by graduating nurses as they recite the Nightingale Pledge, vowing to dedicate themselves to serving their patients and elevating the profession of nursing.4 Her life and her work are regular subjects of study and reflection. What’s less known is that she is believed to have been introverted and introspective, according to theory-based personality indices.5 If the embodiment of modern nursing can contribute, thrive, and succeed as an introvert, there’s nothing to say that you can’t as well.


  1. Colley SL. Voices of quiet students: introverted nursing students’ perceptions of educational experiences and leadership preparation. Int J Nurs Educ Scholarsh. 2018;15(1):1-10. doi:10.1515/ijnes-2018-0056
  2. Sorrell JM, Brown HN. Designing class participation experiences for the introverted student. Nurse Educ. 1995;20(4):30-34. doi: 10.1097/00006223-199507000-00011
  3. Wisser KZ, Massey RL. Mastering your distinctive strengths as an introverted nurse leader. Nurs Adm Q. 2019;43(2):123-129. doi: 10.1097/NAQ.0000000000000343
  4. Florence Nightingale Pledge. Dayton Daily News. May 2012.
  5. Dossey BM. Florence Nightingale: her personality type. J Holist Nurs. 2010;28(1):57-67. doi:10.1177/0898010109356473

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