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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Personalities of Doctors

This month’s column is courtesy of writer Susan. She wrote in seeking help for her character Chandra*, an aspiring doctor in a futuristic fiction novel who, at the age of 19, has already been in college on full scholarship for two years. She was raised to be ultra liberal and to believe that Christians are hate mongers. (The story takes place in 2025, where lots of anti-Christian laws have been passed.) She’s “nice,” but a bit of a snob when relating to those below her perceived social status. By the end, she’ll have to decide whether to embrace her liberal heritage or turn from it forever, thanks to her interactions with one Christian who doesn’t quite fit the mold she’s come to expect.

Susan wants to know what kind of personality traits a woman (or man) might need to become a good doctor. Susan recognized the obvious ones, like dedication, persistence, and a desire to help people.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Susan has already done a little free association for the word doctor. Were I to ask anyone to say what first comes to mind when they hear the word doctor, they’d likely also mention intelligent, hard worker, successful, and rich.

You should see a bit of a pattern. This is your typical Type A personality. (There are always exceptions, but by and large, doctors are conscientious, detail-oriented people. Most are going to be well-groomed, although a frumpy, disheveled doctor wouldn’t be unheard of.) So Chandra will probably carry with her some of the usual traits of Type As, some of which you could work in as her character “flaw.” She might be impatient or have a hard time relaxing because she’s a workaholic.

With Chandra being 19 and already in college for two years, there are some other traits you ought to think about incorporating into your manuscript. Just because she’s smart, doesn’t mean she’s not naïve. She started college before most of her friends her age were finished with high school. In many ways, this puts her at a disadvantage, the biggest of which would be social.

Now I realize that she thinks pretty highly of herself, but she still might be awkward or gawky being around older students. This could give her reason to prefer being isolated in some back room of the library with her pre-med books. Or she might want to bend over backwards to be accepted, so much so that she’d agree to do homework or papers for other people…just to be popular and feel a part of a crowd. She could be easily led on by a guy because she’s inexperienced in romance. There could be all sorts of pitfalls she could fall into.

Looking at Myers-Briggs types typically associated with doctors, I found that INFJs, ISFJs and ESFJs are the most common. Obviously, they all have in common the FJ (not to say TPs, FPs, TJs couldn’t be doctors, though it might be harder for them.) This is interesting, because Feelers (F) are pretty subjective and use an emotionally-based approach to solve things. But when you figure in the sympathetic nature of the Feeler—as opposed to the objective, logical, calculating Thinking (T) person—it makes sense. Doctors want to help people; they are compassionate. The J for Judging is where we get the typical traits associated with Type A. Checking off to-do lists, being organized, planning their lives and schedules. You can see how this would mesh well with a doctor.

So while I was surfing the Internet, I found a cool website about the Myers-Briggs personality types under stress you can access here. I'd read up on how all the types might likely respond to stress, but keep in mind the ones ending in FJ in particular. College is definitely a stressful time for students, and Chandra’s intellect won’t protect her from it, but might, in fact, exacerbate it.

Now a word about her big change of heart. You mentioned in our emails back and forth to one another that Chandra would have many interactions with this Christian man who she doesn’t quite know what to make of. In order for her to accept a new philosophy of life that includes Christ, these interactions will really have to be bone jarring.

Her upbringing with a father that heads up a hate group almost makes her like someone from a cult background. Cults have a psychological power about them that truly does include brainwashing and other methods of mind control that are used for a reason: they absolutely work.

But our God can work miracles, so it’s not a stretch for people to break free from that sort of bondage. The key will be to make these interactions with this Christian powerfully disturbing for your protagonist. She needs to ruminate and ponder about them. Question why he doesn’t fit with her perception or with what she’s been told. Maybe even question the higher-ups involved in the hate group, seriously-rocking-her-world type stuff.

Perhaps each interaction could go against the grain of some inherent lie she was led to believe about Christians. Just peel them back like the layers of an onion, one-by-one until she’s left with the barest, rawest truth: Christians—at least the one Christian—aren’t at all like she thought. This will be a true discovery for her, one that will surprise her even as she comes to grip with the new reality. You could use her personality type to your advantage. Have her crisis of belief—whether she’s going to embrace Christianity or not—hinge on whether she has to actually act to save this Christian man’s life. Her doctor’s instincts would be engaged, but her heart and emotions would also be engaged. If she saves him, she goes against what she’s been taught. If she lets him die, she risks never learning the truth of the life he lives. And it’s a great juxtaposition against her career values to never cause another harm (or let them be harmed if she could prevent it). It could be a wonderful climactic ending (in my opinion, of course!).

But just to clarify, all my assessments are just my own opinions, based on my years of study and practice. Hopefully this has been somewhat helpful, giving you a look into traits of doctors that can work for you or against you. :)

As always, questions or additional comments welcome below.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

Q4U: Do you do the Myers-Briggs type indicator for any of your characters? If so, have you found out anything useful about your character you didn’t previously know?

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Nighfala said...

No, I haven't done Myers-Briggs for my characters, but it's an interesting idea.

I'm still trying to figure out what *I* am! LOL. I test right down the middle and split between I/E and F/T. But I'm definitely an NJ.

I think it depends on whether you apply the questions to your personal life or your career. I know that I respond differently in those spheres.

Tamika: said...

Great post Jeannie! I haven't done the Myers-Briggs for my characters, but my husband I did it this year for a marriage conference and it was enlightening! I've also done one at my workplace many years ago.

It would be interesting to see where my characters fall.

Jen said...

Hello Jeannie! This is a wonderful post! I've never thought to do personality tests for my characters. That could be fun. Especially for the villians :)

Happy Tuesday,

Unknown said...

I love personality tests. I took the Myers-Briggs test a few years ago, and if I remember correctly, the results were fairly accurate. I've never done them for my characters though. I guess I've always felt it was cheating...

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jeannie -

Thank you. You've given me a lot to think about, plus ideas for conflict within the story.

I'll have to look deeper into the Myers-Briggs test. I'm unfamiliar with some of the references.

I appreciate your help.

Susan :)

Rachel Cotterill said...

I did the MBTI for myself about a year ago, and thought at the time that it might be useful to do it for my main characters, too. My main protagonist comes out as ISTJ - the exact opposite of me! I found that quite interesting.

Thanks for dropping in on me - I like this idea for a blog, great fun stuff! :)

Katie said...

A writer friend of mine type-casted every single one of her major characters, and she said it helped her a lot. Ironically, my least favorite of her characters had the same combo as me - INFJ. Weird. Maybe he reminds me too much of me, and I can't handle it.

Very cool post and what an awesome blog. I might just have to send a question for one of my characters. lol

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.