An Open Letter to My Fellow Introverts

Recently, I have had thought-provoking discussions with fellow classmates about being introverted. Some physicians advise students to “become more extroverted,” which is easier said than done. During these discussions, I have been consistently reminded of a piece of advice that I received during EMT training. I was told that doctors must enter a patient encounter commanding the room and demanding attention. That is not “me,” I thought. How am I supposed to do that? These thoughts led me down a winding road of self-doubt. Since those personality traits did not match my own, I found myself wondering if I would be a good physician. 

Throughout the first year of medical school, I was hesitant to speak in large and small groups during our clinical cases and skills courses (IPM). As a result, my opinions largely went unnoticed. At the end of the year, a physician’s advice to me was to push myself to speak up more. She noticed that when I did make a contribution to the group, people listened intently. What I had to share was important, she stated. She did not instruct me to change my entire personality, but rather to push myself out of my comfort zone. After all, don’t we all need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones for the sake of growth? 

During second year, we began to practice patient presentations, often venturing over to the hospital to interview actual patients and develop our assessment and plans. Gradually, I developed two important conclusions about myself: One, I will never be the person that walks into the room loud and confidently demanding attention, and two, that is okay. As an introvert, I have my own unique capabilities. My strengths lie in the fact that I am a calming presence, soft-spoken and compassionate, which allows patients to relax enough to share aspects of their story that they did not feel comfortable telling others. Often, these are critical clues in uncovering their diagnosis. Recently, an elderly patient on chemotherapy with a nephrostomy tube confided that his scrotum had been swollen for a week or so. He had not shared this with anyone else, and after all, they hadn’t bothered to ask. Another reserved patient, on my way out the door, inquired about why his calves felt sore. Along with laboratory data, this led me to deduce that this patient had experienced a new onset seizure and that his calves were sore from the prolonged contraction. 

During my clinical rotations, I continue to push myself to speak up, motivated by the fact that my patients deserve an intelligent and compassionate advocate on their side. They need someone who will present a complete and thorough history, physical, assessment, and plan with confidence. During rounds and in large groups, I ask questions and add my contributions. If I am wrong, I will learn from it. Through these experiences, I have grown to understand exactly the kind of physician that I will become. No, I may not walk into a room and demand everyone’s attention. However, I will be a compassionate, thorough health care provider who exudes a soft-spoken confidence. I will continue to acquire knowledge, not to boast about it, but to be the capable physician that my future patients deserve. 

If you are an introvert and you can relate in any way, I hope that my journey can both aid and motivate you as you go on your own path. 

Be yourself.
Being introverted is not a weakness.
In fact, it can become your greatest strength.
Push yourself to speak up, for the sake of your patients.
You will be an outstanding physician.
Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise.

About the Author: Jenny Santos

I am a fourth-year medical student originally from Baltimore, Maryland. I graduated from Wake Forest University in 2015, where I first heard about USCSOMG. I plan to pursue a career in internal medicine; I am fascinated by both the problem solving and patient interaction necessary for figuring out complex clinical cases. Yes, I am a nerd and I have accepted that. I have loved living in Greenville for medical school. I live close to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, so I can usually be found running, walking or biking to breweries. Recently, I have enjoyed cultivating an awesome garden in my backyard with the help of my indoor/outdoor cat who chases small animals away.

Feature photo courtesy of Raychel Simpson, Class of 2020

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