Most people are somewhat surprised by this, but I am an introvert — a pretty social one who is unafraid to step into the spotlight if necessary (and apparently unafraid to throw herself out there to start a blog?!), but nonetheless, an introvert who prefers to stay quiet and on the sidelines if possible.
This has made some aspects of med school challenging. The medical school curriculum consists of a lot of small group, interactive learning in which students are expected to actively participate. Then, obviously during the clinical years, attendings and residents will ask medical students questions that students are expected to answer. As an introvert, I’m always terrified to speak up in these situations. Even if I feel like I’m 99% sure of the answer, I don’t like to speak up and have all the attention be on me! I usually have to force myself to participate in classes, and it’s pretty difficult for me. I’m always terrified (of what, I don’t even know), even if I know what I’m saying is right, and people who sit next to me are probably very annoyed at how nervous and squirmy I get when I participate. It’s not that I’m necessarily a super shy person because I’m not! I know this is how the typical introvert is perceived. I consider myself to be relatively outgoing and I like social situations. I just prefer not to be in the center of attention, which leads to my unwillingness to participate in group discussions because I think it’s really all those eyes on me that I’m scared of. I know this can be problematic for rotations next year, because I don’t want to let my fear of speaking up from hindering my learning or how I’m perceived by my preceptors, so it’s definitely something I’ll keep working on throughout this year.
Another area where being an introvert is difficult is in positions of leadership. I’ve always liked to be very involved in student groups, so in college, I was on the leadership board for several organizations. This was partially because I was ambitious and passionate about those organizations and wanted to be involved as much as I could, but I also wanted to push myself to learn how to be a better public speaker and learn how to work in a team effectively. Medicine may not seem like a career in which public speaking is a big part, but communication is huge. Physicians need to be able to communicate effectively with patients, colleagues, and families and be able to work well in a multidisciplinary team. Teamwork is something I think I’m pretty good at, but I’ve always known I was an introvert and that speaking up in groups was not one of my strengths, so I actively tried to push myself to develop this skill during college.
In medical school, I’ve also now found myself in positions of leadership through student organizations. It feels a little different to be a leader in medical school versus college. Everyone seems more mature and professional in med school, and there is a little bit more pressure to work professionally and efficiently. As an introvert, my leadership style can probably be best characterized as quiet but firm and diplomatic. I personally do not believe there is any one great leadership style, but I know that some people feel that quiet people cannot be effective leaders. I would respectfully disagree with this. Because I am aware of my tendency to be on the quiet side, I don’t lead by force, but rather prefer to take on a more listening, modulating, and facilitating style of democratic leadership. I know what my strengths are as a leader — I’m organized, I have a pretty good ability of reading people and understanding different people’s personalities and work styles, and I’m good at managing people. These may not be the typical leadership traits that people may think of, but I think I’m able to use these strengths to compensate for my relative weakness in a lack of a loud voice and commanding presence.
Anyway, I got started off on this tangent because I took these photos during my vacation in LA last month and while looking through them, I remembered how embarrassed I was because I took them in pretty crowded places and I couldn’t bear people staring at me! Also, the beginning of the school year has been pretty challenging in testing my leadership ability because with the recruitment of new first years for the student groups, I’ve really had to step up with delegating tasks to the rest of the leadership team and I even had to make a bunch of speeches (terrifying as an introvert to stand up in front of 100+ people!!). But like I said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being an introvert. I just want to find ways to encourage myself to speak up and utilize what can be seen as a weakness as a strength, the way that I have been trying to in my positions of leadership, and hopefully this will help me in classes and clinical settings in the future as well.