Photo by Kyran Aldworth / Unsplash

Where are all the introverted healthcare leaders? 

Quietly but confidently, Linny challenges the idea that leaders need to be the loudest people in the room.

When I first started working as a junior doctor at a hospital in Victoria, something that I noticed during our week of induction was the hierarchies, the male heads of units and very quickly became assimilated to the fact that older patients generally assumed that I was the nurse or pharmacist.

As a woman in healthcare, being born and raised in Australia by refugee parents, there are a number of topics I could delve into today. But I want to focus on just one - the fact that as an introvert, I see and process the world and the many scenarios we are faced with differently. This does not mean we are not capable of becoming leaders in our workplaces. It is common knowledge that extroverted people are seen as the dynamic go-getters while introverts are seen as reserved, shy or meek. However, many well-known international leaders in this world are recognised introverts and have been extremely successful in their endeavours.

My upbringing and cultural background comes with various challenges and opportunities. My parents arrived in Australia in 1979 as refugees to this country and felt welcomed and embraced. They were afforded housing, healthcare and basic language education. They were grateful, and so they instilled this, and the importance of education and giving back to the community in myself and my sisters. Perhaps that has led me to exactly where I am today. A medical specialist doctor currently enrolled in my fourth postgraduate degree and establishing a health promotion charity aimed at improving the health outcomes of communities similar to my parents. 

Leaders can be found from all walks of life, and assume different shapes, sizes and personalities. Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung has said that introversion is often mistaken as shyness or social aversion, when in fact it is just a personality type that relates to how an individual recharges their energy stores. After big days interacting with patients and their families, presenting in front of audiences and attending meetings, I recharge at home with my immediate family. I am my most productive in my thinking when my headphones are in and I am in front of my laptop.

As an introvert, I feel my superpower is being a great listener and so I am great at interpreting, processing, formulating and weighing up different perspectives and information in order to arrive at a good decision. This is a helpful skill as an infectious diseases specialist when the most common presenting problem for children I am asked to see is a child with fever where the focus is unclear. By asking the right questions, listening closely and processing information, I am able to generate a list of differential diagnoses and then formulate a plan of which investigations need to be conducted.

Reflecting back on some rotations during my training years, it was hard to imagine being a senior consultant within a department. The mantra of “you cannot be what you cannot see” rang true for me. I hope by setting an example as an introvert woman leader in healthcare, I can pave the other way for other introverts within healthcare.

There are certainly some days where I am more extroverted than others. I feel this is just my self-awareness and adapting to my surroundings. I would hazard a guess that many individuals within healthcare are more introverted than we are seeing. Perhaps there is a cultural conditioning and perception of what healthcare leaders look like, one to which we all assume when taking those roles of leadership. I strongly believe that leadership inside, and outside of, healthcare settings, can take different forms. It is important for those in leadership positions to recognise and nurture the unique strengths of their team members. Diversity is critical to ensure that our community is represented and are the recipients of our care. Introverts should no longer be overlooked, but valued and embraced.