Do You have the Personality Traits to Succeed as a Veterinarian?


Wondering if you have the right personality traits to succeed as a veterinarian? There are several factors that will influence success in any industry. However, considering your personality traits and comparing them to the people who currently work as veterinarians is one way to help you decide if a career in veterinary medicine is right for you.

Before you read further, please be aware that like any career, there are many different types of people who have found success as a veterinarian. Different personalities may be suited to different areas of veterinary medicine. But in this post we will discuss some of the personality traits that many veterinarians have in common. 

What personality traits are needed to be a veterinarian? The most important personality traits needed to be a good and successful veterinarian are a strong work ethic, a desire to keep learning, good problem-solving skills, attention to detail, the ability to communicate well, a passion for helping both people and animals, and good leadership skills.

While these are just a few of the personality traits that can help you succeed as a veterinarian, they are some of the most important. Keep reading to learn more about why each of these personality traits is important.

And if you are looking for some data on what personality types/traits are most common among veterinarians, you may enjoy the information in the second half of this blog post. This post includes information about the most common Meyers-Briggs personality types among veterinary students and how veterinarians compare to the general population on the Big Five personality traits.

Personality Traits Needed to be a Veterinarian

Strong Work Ethic

As with many careers, a strong work ethic will help anyone succeed in veterinary medicine. Most veterinarians have busy days and need to be consistently working on tasks throughout the day. Showing up, working hard, helping others out, and completing your tasks is all easier with a strong work ethic. 

Desire to Keep Learning

One of the best things about medicine (no matter what species you are focusing on), is that it is always changing and improving. Researchers are constantly developing new treatments and learning more about disease processes. This means that as a veterinarian, you will need to be willing to learn lifelong (or at least career-long) in order to keep up with the best treatments for your patients. 

Good Problem Solving Skills

Working as a veterinarian requires a lot of problem-solving skills. Challenging medical cases can often be complicated puzzles that require a lot of diagnostic testing and knowledge to diagnose. But even beyond making a medical diagnosis, the day to day life of many veterinarians is filled with small problems that need to be solved.

For example, “How can this client get their cat to take the medication?” “How can you keep this horse calm during an exam?” “How can we work to treat an ear infection in a dog who won’t allow his owners to touch his ears?” How can we treat this animal whose owner doesn’t have enough money for the standard of care diagnostics and treatment?”

Being able to effectively problem solve and come up with useful/decisive solutions is an important trait for a veterinarian to have. 

Attention to Detail

Working in any medical field requires a significant amount of attention to detail. It can be the smallest detail that can lead to an accurate diagnosis, and missing details in a case can easily result in a misdiagnosis. Not to mention the importance of attention to detail when working with medications. The wrong dose or the wrong drug can result in lasting harm, even death, for an animal who does not receive the correct medication.

It is important to be able to slow down and pay close attention to your work if you want to have a successful career in veterinary medicine. And this is important for everyone in the veterinary clinic, from the receptionist to the owner of the clinic. 

Ability to Communicate Well

Written and verbal communication skills are very important for any career, but these are especially important when you are communicating about medical details. Discussing prognosis, diagnosis, expectations for what recovery will look like, when the next follow-up is needed, and more, require good verbal communication with coworkers and pet owners/guardians.

And after you are done talking about everything, you will need to write it all down in a medical record. The better you can communicate on paper, the more useful the medical records will be. 

Compassion and a Passion for Helping People and Animals

No matter what area of veterinary medicine you work in, the end goal is to work towards improving life for animals and people. It is important to truly care about the animals, treating them with respect and helping to make decisions that are in the best interest of that animal (or group of animals).

And if you choose to work in clinical medicine (like the local small animal veterinarian), it is very important that you care for the people attached to the pets just as much. Many veterinarians choose to work in this field because they enjoy working with animals. But most veterinarians also deal with people. In fact many veterinarians spend more time talking to people than they do working directly with the animals they are treating. So make sure you care about helping both animals AND people. 

Leadership/decision making skills

Many veterinarians are in leadership positions. They often own veterinary clinics. And even if they aren’t owners of the business, they are typically the leader of the team of people they work with (such as the technicians, receptionists, and kennel attendants). There are many resources (both online and in print) on how to develop good leadership skills. If you are interested in a career as a veterinarian, it is never to early to start developing good leadership skills. 

Typical Meyers-Briggs Personality Types of Veterinarians

The above list is rather subjective. So if you are looking for a more objective overview of personality traits among veterinarians as a group, consider the results of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. This personality type indicator is a written evaluation given to hundreds of veterinary students.

The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator works by evaulating personality based on identifying which side of the scale people fit into in 4 main catigories.

“Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/

Per a DVM360.com article discussing a recent study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, traditionally the majority of veterinary students tested as ISTJ or ESTJ. 

ISTJ: Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty.

ESTJ: Practical, realistic, matter-of-fact. Decisive, quickly move to implement decisions. Organize projects and people to get things done, focus on getting results in the most efficient way possible. Take care of routine details. Have a clear set of logical standards, systematically follow them and want others to also. Forceful in implementing their plans.

https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.htm

Despite those being the most common personality types over the years, recently the data has been changing. Per the study, numbers of veterinary students who are ISTJs have dropped off significantly recently, and feeling types (ESFJs and ISFJs) are increasing faster than thinking types.

This increase in feeling types among veterinarians may be due to changes in admission standards. Veterinary schools have placed a greater focus on business and communication skills over the last several years. 

ESFJ: Warmhearted, conscientious, and cooperative. Want harmony in their environment, work with determination to establish it. Like to work with others to complete tasks accurately and on time. Loyal, follow through even in small matters. Notice what others need in their day-by-day lives and try to provide it. Want to be appreciated for who they are and for what they contribute.

ISFJ: Quiet, friendly, responsible, and conscientious. Committed and steady in meeting their obligations. Thorough, painstaking, and accurate. Loyal, considerate, notice and remember specifics about people who are important to them, concerned with how others feel. Strive to create an orderly and harmonious environment at work and at home.

https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.htm

For reference, nationally the top personality types are ISFJ (13.8%), ESFJ (12.3%), ISTJ (11.6%), and ISFP (8.8%). Over the past 12 years, the top veterinary student personalities have been ISTJ (15.8%), ESTJ (12.8%), and ESFJ (7 %). But over the last 4 years the top personality types for female veterinary students were ESTJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, and ISFJ. For men, the top personality types were ESTP, ESTJ, INTP, and ISTJ. 

Fun fact, INTJ personality types have been found to have the highest grade point averages. 

The Big 5 Personality Traits and the Typical Teterinarian

Another type of personality test is a five-factor model of personality that uses 5 board personality traits (remembered easily via the acronym OCEAN) to help categorize a person’s personality.

  • Openness: the tendency to appreciate new art, ideas, values, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Conscientiousness: the tendency to be careful, on-time for appointments, to follow rules, and to be hardworking. 
  • Extraversion: the tendency to be talkative, sociable, and to enjoy others; the tendency to have a dominant style. 
  • Agreeableness: The tendency to agree and go along with others rather than to assert one’s own opinions and choices
  • Neuroticism: the tendency to frequently experience negative emotions such as anger, worry, and sadness, as well as being interpersonally sensitive. 

More detailed information about the five-factor model of personality can be found at tps://nobaproject.com/modules/personality-traits

A Merck well-being study on veterinarians, found that veterinarians were significantly more likely to be neurotic than the general population. They are also significantly less likely to be extraverted, open to new experiences, and agreeable compared to the general population. But veterinarians do display about the same levels of conscientiousness as the general population. 

While being labeled as more neurotic might be consider a bad thing, I love the way this DVM360.com article frames it.

While many of the attributes associated with neuroticism are “bummer words,” as Dr. Strand says, one positive trait is something called “depressive realism,” or a tendency to see things as they really are. “Neurotics tend to see things more realistically,” she says. “There is a risk of having an over-negative view, but in general neurotics have an advantage in this area.”

This trait can be particularly helpful in a medical professional, Dr. Strand continues. “What would you rather have in your own surgeon?” she asks. “Someone who sees things pessimistically or optimistically, or someone who sees what is actually real?”

https://www.dvm360.com/view/veterinarians-more-likely-be-neurotic-regular-folks

Overall

Remember that any personality type can find a niche in most types of careers. So even if you don’t fit the classic personality type for a veterinarian, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful career in veterinary medicine. Diversity within a field helps the profession grow and evolve.

And additionally, many behaviors can be learned despite your current personality traits. If you want to become more hard-working, practice hard work until it becomes a habit. Have trouble talking to new people and communicating well, practice conversation starters with people you encounter throughout your daily life. And listen to podcasts or read books about how to be a good communicator.

You can develop the traits that you need to survive and thrive as a veterinarian if you put your mind to it.

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