From the Four Temperaments formulated by Hippocrates, where he proposed four main temperaments inspired by his medicinal background, to the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator created by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers (Ford, M. (2015, August 5), the definition of personality has been evolving for centuries. Every individual has differing personalities, and various personality traits may or may not influence the way the individual works. It is important for doctors to know their personality traits well, as they must work with patients from various backgrounds and other healthcare staff as a team on a daily basis.

Neuroticism in medical graduates linked to higher perceived work stress

The most commonly dichotomous personality branch can be the groups Extroversion and Introversion. A twelve-year long study in the UK aimed to find out the work styles, work climate, stress and satisfaction of a medical career among medical graduates. In this study, researchers utilised the ‘Big 5’ Personality dimensions which indicate Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness.

The study found that medical graduates who had higher levels of Neuroticism were more likely to harbour perceived high work stress (McManus, I., Keeling, A., & Paice, E. (2004). Additionally, medical graduates who scored higher on Extraversion had higher correlations to a deep level learning – that is, applying learning principles on a personal level – and increased Openness to experience. The study had found that a surface level learning approach could also be correlated to an increase in Neuroticism itself (McManus, I., Keeling, A., & Paice, E. (2004). This could be related to those with higher scores of introversion as other studies may have suggested (McManus, I., Keeling, A., & Paice, E. (2004). The correlation of higher Neuroticism and Introversion could also predict higher stress and burnouts.

An Australian study examining risky alcohol use and psychiatric morbidity also found a similar correlation of Neuroticism to higher hazardous alcohol use and psychiatric morbidity. Interestingly, it was Extroverted doctors who were found to be at higher risk of stress and burnout in this study (Nash, L. M., Daly, M. G., Kelly, P. J., van Ekert, E. H., Walter, G., Walton, M., ... & Tennant, C. C. (2010), suggesting that innate personality factors like Extroversion and Introversion to be insignificant to an individual’s management of work stress. Both studies agreed that a supportive work place climate and social support are crucial to helping an individual regardless of personality to cope with his or her work stresses. Particularly, the UK study noted a higher level of Agreeableness when there is a positive work climate (McManus, I., Keeling, A., & Paice, E. (2004).

For such workplace factors, increasing staff awareness of burnouts and stress reduction workshops can lead to a healthier work climate. Social and physical activities can also help a healthcare professional to cope with work stress and burnouts, such as sharing work related problems, venting and laughing had decreases in personal anxieties. In all, it is pertinent that healthcare staffs be able to practise self-care and awareness, and to find individual methods that best suits them (Ishak, W. W., Lederer, S., Mandili, C., Nikravesh, R., Seligman, L., Vasa, M., . . . Bernstein, C. A. (2009).

As seen from the various studies, personality differences could indirectly impact learning styles and work management. However, such personality traits can also inadvertently contribute to workplace climate and collaboration among healthcare personnel. In a study looking at effects of Problem-based Learning (PBL) activities of medical students of various personalities, it was found that regular supervised tutorials help to allow reflection on behavioural displays towards tutorial times and minimise tensions and conflicts between both extroverts and introverts (Johnson, S. M., & Finucane, P. M. (2000).

Some personality traits may predict medical specialities that medical graduate choose

A study sought to understand the types of personality traits that are present in an individual when choosing his or her medical specialities as they began medical school. It was found that those in psychiatry speciality had a higher level of neuroticism, and more of these medical students also score more in the introversion dimension. Meanwhile, there was a higher rate of agreeableness and conscientiousness for those who chose family practice (Maron, B. A., Fein, S., Maron, B. J., Hillel, A. T., El Baghdadi, M. M., & Rodenhauser, P. (2007).

Other specialities like surgery found that those who choose this speciality had lower openness scores, and that those with internal medicine speciality had higher agreeableness scores. However, all these scores between specialities did not make any larger statistical differences between one another. As for gender differences, it was found that between all specialities, women scored higher than men all ‘Big 5’ dimensions with the exception of neuroticism (Maron, B. A., Fein, S., Maron, B. J., Hillel, A. T., El Baghdadi, M. M., & Rodenhauser, P. (2007).

As this study concludes, among all specialities, personality dimensions are actually indistinguishable to all medical students who choose their own specialities. Many factors aside from personality makes up the speciality one chooses, such as their experiences while attending medical school (Maron, B. A., Fein, S., Maron, B. J., Hillel, A. T., El Baghdadi, M. M., & Rodenhauser, P. (2007). MIMS

More on how the personality of doctors affects their communications with patients in Part 2.

Read more:
Personality affects what written errors grate on you
10 things doctors' offices need to improve patient experience
The 10 habits of a great doctor

Ford, M. (2015, August 5). A History of Personality Psychology: Part 1. Retrieved from
McManus, I., Keeling, A., & Paice, E. (2004). Stress, burnout and doctors’ attitudes to work are determined by personality and learning style: A twelve year longitudinal study of UK medical graduates. BMC Medicine, 2, 29.
Nash, L. M., Daly, M. G., Kelly, P. J., van Ekert, E. H., Walter, G., Walton, M., ... & Tennant, C. C. (2010). Factors associated with psychiatric morbidity and hazardous alcohol use in Australian doctors. Med J Aust, 193(3), 161-166.
Ishak, W. W., Lederer, S., Mandili, C., Nikravesh, R., Seligman, L., Vasa, M., . . . Bernstein, C. A. (2009). Burnout During Residency Training: A Literature Review. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 1(2), 236-242. doi:10.4300/jgme-d-09-00054.1
Johnson, S. M., & Finucane, P. M. (2000). The emergence of problem‐based learning in medical education. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 6(3), 281-291.
Clack, G. B., Allen, J., Cooper, D., & Head, J. O. (2004). Personality differences between doctors and their patients: implications for the teaching of communication skills. Medical education, 38(2), 177-186.
Maron, B. A., Fein, S., Maron, B. J., Hillel, A. T., El Baghdadi, M. M., & Rodenhauser, P. (2007). Ability of prospective assessment of personality profiles to predict the practice specialty of medical students. In Baylor University Medical Center. Proceedings (Vol. 20, No. 1, p. 22). Baylor University Medical Center.