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Understanding Nurses’ Personality Traits

Change starts with awareness. Even though our personalities are aspects of ourselves that we are for the most part stuck with for life — for better or for worse — knowing ourselves can help us to take control of our lives by choosing situations that are more conducive to our well-being and by modeling effective coping mechanisms to avoid nursing burnout.

Let’s begin this process of self-exploration, self-improvement, and self-care by understanding our own unique personality profiles.  

Nurses’ Personality Traits: The Big Five Model

Many different models have been proposed to better understand personality, but the model that is most widely accepted by psychologists today is the Big Five Model. According to this theory, personality can be narrowed down to five main factors: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

Each of these factors represents a spectrum of possibilities; people are not totally extroverted or introverted, but they fall somewhere along the spectrum. Some people could be very balanced with all their personality traits falling towards the middle of each trait spectrum, whereas others may have very dominant personality traits accompanied by other factors at the low end of the spectrum.  


This factor reflects the degree to which people interact with others and their levels of comfort and assertiveness in these situations. Extroverted people are sociable and enjoy being the center of attention. Furthermore, they are energized by social interaction. At the other end of the spectrum, people with low extroversion prefer to be alone and are even tired by social interaction. They are more reserved and reflective and certainly do not like being the center of attention. 


This factor refers to people’s interaction with others. If people are highly agreeable, they are empathetic and sympathetic; they are cooperative, altruistic, and compliant; they are trustworthy and also forgiving of others. People falling on the opposite end of the spectrum are more likely to show off as well as insult others. People with low agreeableness are not likely to care about others’ feelings and are often demanding of others. 


This trait refers to people’s willingness to experience new things, as well as their inclination towards imaginative and intellectual pursuits. Open people are often curious, creative, and unconventional. On the other hand, those with low openness are more traditional and prefer to follow routines; they are also not very imaginative. Needless to say, people who are not very open tend to dislike change.  


People who are highly conscientious have great impulse control. This allows them to stay focused on goals. These individuals are generally organized, disciplined, thoughtful, and careful. On the other hand, people with low conscientiousness are more impulsive and disorganized. 


This factor refers to people’s emotional stability and the lens through which they see the world. Neurotic people are more prone to experiencing negative emotions and thoughts, including anxiety, anger, sadness, stress, low self-esteem, and vulnerability. People with low neuroticism are more emotionally stable: they don’t worry much; they are rarely sad; they often have high self-esteem and are more confident, and resilient. 

As you read the descriptions of these five main factors of personality, you probably imagined more or less where you would fall along each spectrum. Nevertheless, if you’d like to know more about your personality, you can take this big five personality traits test. The results of this test will help you know yourself more deeply and will likely be interesting but should not be seen as psychological diagnoses or advice.  

Personality Traits as Predictors of Work Performance

Our personalities affect all areas of our lives because of course they are part of us. Furthermore, our personality traits are largely out of our control since about 50% of our personality traits are inherited. Although we are not able to fully control our personalities or those of others for that matter, it is important to know ourselves and be able to identify personality traits in others. 

In regard to work, understanding our personality traits can help us know which work settings and roles are more compatible with our strengths and preferences. Furthermore, understanding others’ personality traits can help us interact more effectively with supervisors and fellow coworkers. This is especially important if we are in leadership roles since it is part of our jobs to assign tasks and responsibilities to other people, and understanding their personalities can help us assign these roles more effectively.

Numerous studies have been carried out to help us better understand the effect of personality traits on job performance.

  • According to John and Srivastava (1999), dominant conscientiousness is all around the best predictor of high work performance. 
  • These researchers also found that extroversion is a positive predictor of leadership and management positions. Thus, people with high extroversion should aim to work in leadership and management since these roles would be fulfilling and energizing for them. 
  • Agreeableness has been found to be beneficial for teamwork but prejudicial to individual proactivity. Therefore, people who know that they are highly agreeable should try to work as part of teams, and supervisors who identify nurses and nursing assistants as having this personality trait should also assign them to group tasks.   
  • Similarly, people with high neuroticism perform much better as members of teams. 
  • On the contrary, Neal and others (2012) found that openness to experience is not beneficial to teamwork but is beneficial to individual productivity. Therefore, people with high openness to experience should try to work on and should be assigned by supervisors to independent tasks.

How Personality Traits Affect Nursing Burnout

Healthcare professionals, in particular nurses, are regularly exposed to stressful situations, which often lead to nursing burnout, depression, and negative moods. Interestingly, studies have shown that nurses' abilities to cope effectively with these stressful situations is largely dependent on their personality traits.

In 2019, Pérez-Fuentes and others found three common personality profiles among nurses:

  • The first group had high scores in extroversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and conscientiousness and had low scores in neuroticism.
  • The second group had high scores in conscientiousness, openness to experience, and neuroticism but had low scores in agreeableness and extroversion.
  • The third group had very high scores in neuroticism and low scores in the rest of the variables.

The first group was by far the least affected by nursing burnout, whereas the last group was the most affected by it. High conscientiousness helps people avoid burnout because they tend to employ proactive, problem-focused strategies and are generally less anxious than people with low conscientiousness. Furthermore, extroverted people also use more adaptive coping mechanisms in stressful situations than introverted people do. On the other hand, highly neurotic people attempt to use emotional strategies to solve problems instead of the more effective strategies that highly conscientious people use and also engage in avoidance strategies when they are in stressful situations.

Although personality is generally considered to be stable throughout a person’s life, Wechler and others (2018) suggest that effective coping strategies may be modeled. Furthermore, Molero and others (2019) propose that the development of these strategies could contribute to the well-being of healthcare professionals

Effective Coping Strategies to Avoid Nursing Burnout

Interestingly, stressful situations in our lives aren’t in themselves harmful. The negative consequences that these stressors might cause depend on the behavior or techniques people use to face these situations. In other words, the way people cope with stress is more significant to their well-being than the stressors themselves. 

Overall, Dijkstra and Homan (2016) found that the coping strategies that most positively affect our well-being are more engaging strategies, since these increase our sense of control, whereas disengagement strategies tend to lower psychological well-being because they cause us to experience lack of control.  

Engaging Coping Strategies

Among these engaging strategies, the most effective were active confronting and reassuring thoughts. 

  • Active confronting means facing the stressor directly. This could mean changing our work setting since this change would imply taking control of the situation.
  • Reassuring thoughts implies putting situations in perspective and not allowing ourselves to blow them out of proportion. If we are assigned the night shift, we can tell ourselves that this schedule is only temporary — and yes, our families will understand.  

Disengagement Coping Strategies

On the other hand, the least effective and even harmful strategies were passive reaction pattern, palliative reaction, and avoidance.

  • Passive reaction is allowing yourself to be helplessly overwhelmed by the stressful event without facing it directly, for example feeling anxious about contracting COVID-19 but not looking for a job where you would be less exposed .
  • Palliative reaction is allowing yourself to be numbed by the stressful event. If you have felt stressed from working with trauma victims but instead of trying to help them, you become indifferent to their suffering, you are not coping effectively.  
  • Avoidance is simply not taking action. If you would like a change at work but don’t want to bring up the issue with your supervisor, then you are simply avoiding your stressor, which — by the way — does not go away when ignored. 

Self-Awareness Is Just the Beginning

Knowing our own personalities and identifying our go-to coping mechanisms is only the beginning of this journey of personal improvement and self-care. Once we understand ourselves — what situations we thrive in and how we tend to react to stressors in our lives — it is up to us to make the necessary changes in our own behavior as well as carefully choose the situations that we put ourselves in.

With this in mind, an important first step is to consider whether we are in the ideal work setting for our personality profiles. If we are not, it is time to look for a new job. One way to do this is through Nursa's PRN staffing app, which allows nurses and nursing assistants to explore different work settings in order to find the perfect fit for their personality traits.

Another indispensable step is to model effective coping mechanisms regardless of our natural tendencies. Even if our personalities are naturally neurotic, we must utilize engagement coping strategies in order to be in control of our lives, which in turn will contribute to our physical and mental well-being. We should have the lead roles in the stories of our lives — we should not be passive observers.


Blog published on:
July 1, 2022

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