Are you an introvert? An extrovert? Undecided? And more importantly, how would you know and what does it mean for you as a vet student?
Psychologist Carl Jung introduced the terms introvert and extrovert in his book, Personality Types in 1921. These concepts led to the formation of many self-assessments you can take to measure your personality on multiple dimensions, including extroversion and introversion. Perhaps the most well known one is the Myers Briggs (MTBI) which you can take at mtbionline.com.
The field of personality psychology is complex and incredibly interesting and insightful. Understanding your personality dimensions can help you gain a better sense of how to optimize your interactions with the world and with others in school, in life and in the workplace. Of course, there are many other dimensions of personality which try to characterize human behavior but for the purposes of this article, we will be discussing just introversion and extroversion.
Surprisingly enough, the definitions of introversion and extroversion do not necessarily match up to how we use use these terms colloquially. For example, we may think of extroverts as people who are outgoing and introverts as people who are shy. However, this is not the meaning of these terms. These terms actually refer to differing preferences and attitudes in how people choose to direct their energy (6). This goes back to the origin of introversion or extroversion tendencies, as explained by Psychologist Hans Eysenck in his own model of personality.
On the second dimension of temperament, Extraversion-Introversion, Eysenck explains that introverts have differences in brain activity levels; introverts have high levels of internal arousal while extroverts have low levels of internal arousal. Therefore, introverts are chronically over stimulated so they seek to direct their energy into activities that provide them with quiet and often, solitude (3).
In Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, she discusses how we live in a society that often encourages and rewards extroverts. This topic is further explored and applied to clinical veterinary medicine in a DVM360 article by Ashley Griffin that discuss how introverts can succeed in veterinary practice.
So, we had to wonder, does being an introvert help vet students succeed and if so, what do those benefits look like as a vet student? We believe there at least 5 distinct benefits to being an introverted vet student.
1. Introverts are persistent. They have the ability to concentrate on a problem for extended periods of time. In fact, one example given by Susan Cain is a quote from Albert Einstein who said, “It’s not that I am so smart. It’s that I stay with problems longer” (7). Working through problems patiently and for long periods of time serves vet students well, as they often have many hours of studying complex topics and working through challenging cases on clinics.
2. Introverts are creative. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has said that most creative people are introverts, and may be attributed to the fact that they are comfortable spending time by themselves which is important for creative discovery (2). With most vet school lectures covering over 100+ slides of information per lecture, being able to find creative ways to remember all that information is likely a big plus for vet students.
3. Introverts are observational. They tend to analyze and scan a situation before speaking out or contributing to the conversation. When rounding about topics in vet school, this can be very important and helpful. By observing and gathering information, students can formulate the most educated answer possible (or educated guess, depending on the rotation and what you’re being asked!).
4. Introverts are detail oriented. And let’s face it-that first year (and likely second year of vet, depending on your universities) are all about the details. From learning the ins and outs of renal physiology to the function of every cranial nerve, it can really behoove you to pay attention to the details.
5. And lastly but not less importantly, introverts tend to maintain small groups of very close friends. It is super important to have this sort of support system as you can help each other through all the difficulties of classes, clinics and studying for boards.
It turns out that even in a society that seems to value and reward extroverts, introverts have several key personality tendencies that can be extremely beneficial. This is not to say that extroverts can not or do not have these tendencies, but rather just to point out that introverted vet students have some key strengths that are sometimes overlooked.
On a closing note, if this article has not empowered the introverted vet students out there just yet, I’ll leave you with the following examples. Ever heard of Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Mark Zuckerberg? They’ve have all been described as introverts, so you are in great company. The key is to understand yourself so you can learn how to maximize your strengths to achieve the success in vet school you are more than capable of achieving!
Best of luck on your vet school journey, fellow introverts!
1) Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. 2012: Crown Publishing Group.
2) Cook, Gareth. “The Power of Introverts: A manifesto for quiet brilliance.” Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-power-of-introverts/
3) DK. The Psychology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. 2013: Penguin House.
4) Griffin, Ashley. “3 things every introvert should know in veterinary practice.” DVM360. Retrieved from http://veterinarybusiness.dvm360.com/3-things-every-introvert-should-know-veterinary-practice
5) Lewis, Bryce. “Summary of Quiet by Susan Cain.” BryceLewis.com. Retrieved from http://www.brycelewis.com/summary-quiet-susan-cain/
6) Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Retrieved from mbtionline.com.
7) Rousmaniere, Dana. “The power of introverts in your office.” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/07/the-power-of-the-introvert-in