[00:00:00] Mat: Welcome to Doctors at Work. My name is Mat Daniel and this podcast is about doctors’ careers. Now, are you an introvert? Are you an extrovert? In this episode, Charity Hicks tells me that introverts tend to like time to think and reflect and they dislike constant disturbance. But being an introvert isn’t about liking or disliking people, it’s about where your energy comes from.
We are all of course individuals and no two people are alike. If you’re an early career doctor making career decisions, then knowing that you’re an introvert can be useful when choosing your specialty and the workplace context. And for introverts in senior doctor roles, having some quiet time and boundaries can replenish your energy in an otherwise busy clinical setting.
I hope the podcast is useful.
Welcome Charity. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
[00:01:05] Charity: Thanks, Mat. Thanks for inviting me today. So I suppose by our accents, we can tell I’m not where you’re at. I’m in the U. S. And I’m a retired ophthalmologist. I’m one of those people. I when I started in medicine, I had an inkling that I wouldn’t be in medicine forever.
And probably around 2017 is when I started exploring different opportunities outside of clinical medicine. And I did a lot of experimenting and playing. I tried on a lot of different things and I ended up with coaching and I think part of that. And I think this happens often is when people get exposed to coaching they see how beneficial and what, what a big change maker it can be and you get excited about that.
And I’m excited to help introverts who are struggling with burnout in healthcare, whether, whether they be in clinical or an admin and yeah, I just think. There’s a lot going on right now in healthcare and people need support. And there’s a lot of people out there that are wondering if healthcare is still for them.
And I’d like to help those people as well.
[00:02:17] Mat: And I particularly invited you because I saw the things you were posting about introverts. And maybe I should start with by asking what is an introvert? Yeah.
[00:02:28] Charity: So basically when you talk about introverts and extroverts it’s. It’s all about energy and where you gather your energy from.
Introverts tend To gather their energy and re-energize when they’re alone and in solitude. They have rich inner lives and enjoy thinking a lot and learning. And it’s a little, it’s a little different than an extrovert who might be energized by being out and around people. And there’s a couple common misconceptions with introverts that they might be, that they’re shy.
Or they have social anxiety, or they don’t like people, and none of that’s true. You’ll find lots of people who are introverts that you might not have ever guessed that they’re introverts based on, how they interact with you. But it’s all about where, at the end of the day, do you go to refuel yourself?
[00:03:15] Mat: So I’m wondering do people know whether they’re an introvert. Is it, are we, is it this a spectrum or people are either one or the other, and how do you know?
[00:03:25] Charity: it’s def there’s definitely a spectrum and no two introverts are alike. And I it’s always interesting to, to look at categories and see similarities.
And at the end of the day, you have to remember that none of us are in. All in the same box, like we’re all our own person. And introverts tend to be inquisitive and self-reflecting. And so I suspect many people probably do realize they’re introverts. And I suspect that there are also people out there who they know when they’re drained or they.
They enjoy hanging around people, but there’s always that end point where they’re ready to be done and they might not realize that they’re an introvert. Especially if they’re, especially if they’re thinking, oh, introverts are shy or, introverts don’t like people or they have social anxiety.
If they’re thinking that’s the label, they might not realize it’s more about, about energy management.
[00:04:19] Mat: You’ve already made me think charity because I’m thinking. I Wonder which one I am, because, if you’d asked me that question, I would’ve said, it’s people that are shy. They don’t really like other people; they prefer to be alone.
But just you are saying, I like that analogy of where the energy comes from. I think that strikes me as a really useful concept.
[00:04:39] Charity: Yeah. And do, go ahead. It’s interesting that there’s actually, there’s been studies that show there’s different sensitivities within the brain of introverts versus extroverts that, as far as their response to neurotransmitters, where there are situations in where, in which extroverts will feel stimulated but in a good way, like they feel energized.
And for introverts, they actually feel overstimulated. And so that’s another way to look at, is it. Is it good energy or is it like too much overstimulation?
[00:05:20] Mat: And do we know where any of this arises?
[00:05:27] Charity: I think there’s, some of it is, it’s like most anything. It’s some of it’s probably genetic and some of it is how you were, raised in the nurture versus nature.
And there are the interesting theories that it’s just a different introverts process. Differently than extroverts. There’s one theory that, extroverts, the way they process. their cues from the environment is a shorter route than introverts. And so a lot of times introverts will notice that it takes them a little, like it takes them a little bit longer to think of their response.
They, it’s more, they spend a little more time thinking about how they’re going to respond. And they like to go at their own pace and not necessarily be rushed. And that might make sense if. One pathway in the brain of processing information is a little faster as opposed to another pathway that goes through a little more of contemplation, I guess
[00:06:29] Mat: and when it comes to Clinicians in clinical settings.
How does being an introvert affect them?
[00:06:39] Charity: Yeah I’ve thought about this and When I was younger, taking some of the personality quizzes and physician was always listed as a great job for introverts and now I chuckled at myself because I’m like, wow, being a physician is being with people all day.
Like, how did they think that? But there are so many qualities of introverts. that are well suited to be physicians. Like I said they’re deep thinkers, generally tend to be good listeners, and have empathy, problem solvers and so there’s a lot of that’s well suited to being a physician.
But what I think is, over time, healthcare has shifted. And so those deep relationships that introverts really, thrive on rather than knowing, introverts, rather than knowing a lot of people and having a lot of. of interactions, like to have fewer interactions that are deeper.
And I think that it used to be that way in healthcare. And now it’s becoming, we’re seeing more and more patients. So you’re not getting that deep connection. Maybe you’re feeling rushed and feeling like you don’t have the time to think things through and you’re dealing with a faster pace.
So I’ve come to the idea that introverts are really good as doctors, but maybe the healthcare system is becoming less. hospitable to introverts.
[00:08:03] Mat: It’s interesting because as you’re saying that it’s resonating with me maybe with some of the career discussions that I’ve had with people where people they want they, let’s say it’s a young doctor that’s choosing a specialty and they want to choose somewhere where they can have a strong relationship, they can have time.
They don’t have to rush with decisions all the time, they can analyse, they can process, they can think and, and that as a specialty, that, that’s quite different to some of the other specialties, maybe I’m taking, emergency medicine, for example, in recess, it’s bang, bang, sort of decisions need to be made straight away but for a lot of doctors, it may be for some of them would be the introverts that you described, and if They want to build up that relationship.
They want to spend time thinking about it. They want to go away and reflect and do some reading. And then come back with a reason, reasoned decisions. And we need both of those types of doctors, don’t we?
[00:08:55] Charity: Exactly, yeah. And I think that’s, the thing is, it’s not like one, being an introvert or an extrovert, one isn’t better than the other.
We, we need all kinds of people in every field.
[00:09:31] Charity: And so I think that is a, it’s a big thing is when you talk about people early in their career is definitely looking at and learning about what is. the lifestyle of the specialty that you’ve chosen. For instance, I went into ophthalmology and I didn’t realize when I went into ophthalmology that it’s a pretty high volume specialty.
And I was always at the lower end of, as far as how many patients I saw, because I just didn’t feel comfortable and I didn’t Feel like I was functioning optimally at that at a high volume pace and I, through in through coaching, I, came to the realization that didn’t wasn’t.
Didn’t make me bad. Didn’t, it was other people were more well suited to that kind of pace. And just wasn’t my pace and that was okay. But I think that is especially for people coming into early career. That is something to take into consideration because it could definitely make a difference in your experience.
Oh, being in the healthcare system.
[00:10:39] Mat: So if you maybe if we stick with somebody who’s early, somebody who’s just finished a year or two ago and they’re trying to make a career decision. So what kind of areas do you think would be would play to the strength of somebody who’s an introvert?
[00:10:53] Charity: Yeah.
Again, introverts do this the areas where you have the deep connection and where you get to take a little bit more time introverts are, definitely problem solvers, very observant. They tend to notice a lot of. A lot of things that other people don’t and definitely there’s certain specialties that might be a little more geared toward the introvert, perhaps ones where there’s less, patient or patient physician interaction.
And also looking at the pace, like what’s a normal, what’s a normal day look like? And I think it’s also important to look at the environment in which you’ll be practicing. and the practice style. I think that’s, I think that is one of the things as healthcare, at least in the U.
S. Where people are, physicians are becoming more employed rather than being, practice owners, there’s a little, there’s, you don’t have as much I autonomy there, right? You don’t have as much decision and what your practice is going to look like. And so for someone who’s young and coming into their career, definitely looking, not just at the numbers or some of the typical, the, the usual things that you might look at, but, getting into the clinic and seeing what does it feel like in your, what’s this environment, even, when we talk about like the overstimulation, environment is so important.
The noise, how things are set up. Do you have a personal private space that you can go to for five minutes in between patients if you need to? I mean there’s a lot of little factors like that you wouldn’t necessarily think of that could really significantly impact you as an introvert.
[00:12:43] Mat: So if I’m thinking of my area, so I do children’s ENT and it would be obviously probably similar to ophthalmology with relatively large volume.
And if I think of our average theatre session, we’re constantly, there’s somebody wanting something else, there’s a change in order, a patient needs to be added, a patient needs to be removed, somebody’s eaten, somebody’s vomiting, somebody’s bleeding there’s a constant.
Stream of that. So I guess it’s interesting if I think of maybe just if we talk in specialty If I think some of my colleagues for example, maybe the ones that do ear surgery or cochlear implant is you know in their theatres there’ll be zen music playing and they’ll be to be perfect quiet They’ll have one patient for a morning and that will be it and the surgeons operating and interesting everybody else is asleep or knitting and you know that’s how that is So it’s even within one specialty, there’s probably quite different subspecialties.
And again, or something in general practice, maybe a UK general practice in the public system, seven minutes, 10 minutes, bang, sort of one in one out. But we also have people that do, that are private general practitioners, where maybe there’s a half an hour appointment. So you can have the same clinical area.
And it’s perhaps it’s as you say, it’s as much about the context as necessarily the specialty or working in a very small, quiet, district general hospital versus being in a somewhere that’s a major trauma unit you can do the same clinical area, but totally different work environments.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:14:14] Charity: I hear an interesting story. Because during COVID, obviously we weren’t letting, we weren’t having a lot of patients in the waiting room. We would bring them into the exam room and then they would stay in that exam room the entire time. And then they wouldn’t. leave the building. And so there wasn’t a full waiting room full of patients.
And one of my staff commented to me one day, they’re like, you seem so much happier. And it didn’t, it hadn’t dawned on me, but they noticed it. And I was like, it was just because there wasn’t all like The noise and the voices and like you said, there’s, someone yelling and I’m assuming your waiting room would be the same way with kids that, you know, lots of noise and those little types of things can make a difference.
[00:14:59] Mat: So if maybe if I asked you to look back at your career, because I’m guessing from what you’re saying, you didn’t clock how important this was to you until you were quite a long way down the career. So just to try and think to make sure that other people. Learn from that, what tip would you have given yourself, 20 years ago when you were maybe setting out?
[00:15:22] Charity: In terms of being an introvert, I don’t think I was thinking about that then. And so I think that’s one of the things that I really appreciate about the Kind of the mental health space becoming more mainstream right now is there is people are talking about those kind of things more like I don’t feel like I don’t know what your experience was, but I don’t feel like that was something people even talked about or were concerned about.
And so I think there’s a great potential there for people to gain an awareness about themselves earlier on so that they can make those choices that. That would, again, subtle, subtle little things that can make a big difference.
[00:16:09] Mat: Okay. And you mentioned earlier you talked about, some links maybe between being an introvert and burnout and the toll that some of that might take.
Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
[00:16:21] Charity: Yeah. A common thing that are associated with burnout are our loss of autonomy the workload. Feeling valued in your work and seeing a greater purpose to your work and many of those things just line right up with being an introvert introverts tend to be independent autonomous people who like to go away on their own and they can do great things on their own.
And they’re problem solvers. So they’re used to coming up with problem, the answers to problems and wanting to have those deep connections and have a purpose to their work. And so that’s very similar. Those are the things that people report as being issues within burnout Yeah.
The workload’s too much. We don’t have time to think. We don’t have time to connect with our patients. The loss of autonomy where people don’t have the options to create the way their day looks and tailor it to a way that would let them function maximally. and then, I think there’s a lot right now.
The, the rewards and not just monetary rewards but feeling like you’re able to do something meaningful and you’re doing something impactful in a way that feels good to you. And so those things, I think overlap in terms of what might be considered introvert needs. And then those areas where there’s limitation in terms of burnout.
[00:17:55] Mat: And if there’s somebody who is. a relatively experienced doctor and, they might not want to change their career, but they’re listening and they’re realizing, what sort of a lot of this applies to me. What can they do, what, what could the 40, 50 year old doctor do when they clock these things, if they didn’t before, what can they do about it now?
[00:18:13] Charity: So I think it’s just being very proactive about seeing what are those, what are the things, because again, everyone’s going to be different, but what are the things that drain your energy? I’m always. Big about looking at what drains you, what energizes you. And for, introverts, there’s a big thing around creating boundaries.
A lot of us these days allow ourselves to be on 24 seven and you don’t. Need to be obviously there are emergencies that need to be taken care of. If you’re on call, that’s a different thing. But a lot of the time you don’t need to do that. And just telling people like, Hey, unless it’s an emergency, don’t get hold of me before eight.
Don’t call me after five like creating boundaries around your time. Definitely in the middle of the day, if you get, if you’re able to have lunch, either having in a private place or my preference is like totally leaving the building, put yourself in a new environment where you get that quiet that you need to relax.
And then, again, we’re whole people, we’re not just, we’re not just physicians or whatever our role is in health care. And opening up and making sure that you’re nurturing all those things that energize you outside of work because, obviously in medicine, you can’t say I’m going to go take a 10 minute break.
And that often isn’t. isn’t reasonable in the middle of a busy clinic, but you can know, oh, this, tomorrow is going to be very busy, so I’m going to do this thing that fills me up tonight, and I’m going to make sure I’m well rested, and I’m not going to schedule something after work, because I know it’s going to be a busy day, so creating those cushions where you have that alone time, that time to go back and recharge so I think you just have to be a little sneaky about the way you.
you fit those little breaks in during the day.
[00:20:03] Mat: I’m giggling because I have I have a colleague and I know that there is a nurse that brings them a cup of tea on a porcelain cup with a biscuit every clinic at about 10 o’clock in the morning. And the whole clinic stops for 10 minutes, whilst that person has their tea.
So I’m thinking, okay, you probably can have 10 minutes. Not always but quite often you can have 10 minutes, or more often you can have 10 minutes than we think we can have 10 minutes.
[00:20:29] Charity: That’s a great point is believing that it’s possible.
[00:20:35] Mat: And I don’t think my colleague has it because they’re introverted.
I think it’s just that they’re from a different era, that’s the era. That’s how it used to be 40 years ago, and they still work it out. It was 40 years. Quite a boundary strikes me important and I think that’s probably true for all of us. I think whether you’re an introvert or not putting those boundaries.
So I think talking to you, I’m realizing that I’m probably not an introvert because I’m quite happy to be called and disturbed at lunchtime. But what I like is when I’m not at work, I don’t want to be at work. So I said, maybe I’m an introvert, but with a different boundary.
Yeah. So for me, If Friday is not my clinical day I, there is no way that I’m doing any clinical day on a Friday. Yeah, because I’ve got other stuff that I’m not sitting around doing nothing. I’ve got lots of stuff that I’ve got on, but it’s not my clinical day. My clinical day is Tuesday.
My clinical day is Thursday. The rest of the time, I don’t want to be doing anything clinical. So maybe that’s how I. Set the boundary. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays, yeah, people can disturb me all they want. Yeah, but the rest of the time No, I don’t want to be disturbed with clinical queries because I’m doing my brain’s somewhere else if you like, yeah
[00:21:43] Charity: Yeah, exactly and that’s you like whether or not you decide you’re an introvert or not.
You’ve created that cushion of your time And then, so basically you can say think about it like closed time, like it’s your time where you’re doing the things that energize you and then you have the quote open time where you’re available and, you have that capacity to be interrupted and be okay with it.
[00:22:07] Mat: So then if we think of. for if you find yourself working with people that are introverts, people that are listening to this and saying, Oh yeah, I’ve got colleagues that are like that. I’ve got trainees or I’ve got senior doctors that are like that. What how can all of us help the introverts in the workplace?
[00:22:26] Charity: So you just named one of them as interruptions. So introverts typically don’t do well with interruptions because they liked it. They’re very good at focusing. And That can just be one thing is being cognizant of, when can we create some protected time versus interrupting.
Introverts tend to be more comfortable with written communication. And so if there’s a lot of, a lot of back and forth or planning or meetings, written communication and giving information ahead of time, so that there is time to think about it and process it the controlling the workload, if that’s something that’s possible, is working together to say, okay, what’s what is a comfortable pace for you?
Here’s our need of how many people we need to be seen. And what’s your need of how you would like to see the patients and trying to find a common ground their environment again, I think noise is a big thing. It’s those, those external things that some people might not even notice.
Yeah. I always laugh because there was a in my clinic one time, one of the slit lamps, the rheostat, there was, it would buzz when you turned it up and down. And to me, it was so obvious it drove me nuts. And my, But my technician was like, What are you talking about? I didn’t hear it. So it’s just things like that, like small little things in the environment that can be tweaked.
I know some people will play, come, music to create a calm setting in their office and that might help your introvert patients as well. Yeah, so there’s little things like that you can look at.
[00:24:02] Mat: Okay. Maybe if I bring us to a close, I don’t know, there might be some additional tips that that you’ve got, or perhaps I could ask you to summarize what your top tips for doctors at work would be.
[00:24:15] Charity: Yeah, I think my top tip is just to be okay with who you are and know that your needs count. And. As a, whether you’re an introvert or not, I think there’s a lot of physicians who, we went into Medicine because we want to serve and we want to help people and we’re, we have probably a little people pleaser in us and just knowing that it is okay to recognize your needs and what you know what you need to thrive and to share that with the people around you and to know that you can set those boundaries to nurture all parts of you and not just It’s just the performer of the physician and yeah I think that’s it.
We, we talked about some of the tips and of creating quiet time and getting your personal time and, nurturing those hobbies that do energize you so that you can come in full force to clinic and have the energy to serve people the way you want to do.
[00:25:17] Mat: They send great tips.
Thank you very much.
[00:25:20] Charity: You’re welcome.