Journal of Health Policy & Opinions
Emotional Intelligence for Healthcare
Joseph Farmer 1, Mita Mistry 2, Ashok Kumar Jainer 1
1 Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Partnership Trust
2 British Acupuncture Council
Correspondence to
Key words
Emotional intelligence, empathy, healthcare professionals
Cite as: Farmer J, Mistry M, Winchester M, Kumar A. Emotional Intelligence for Doctors. Sushruta 2020 vol
3:issue 2 epub 24.02.2020
power dynamics within a team, or
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is a term popularised by the
Relationship management
- indicates the
American Psychologist Daniel Goleman[1]. It is the
ability to healthily and successfully maintain
ability to recognise, understand and control one’s
social relationships, interact with others in a
emotions and consider the impact these have on
productive way, work in teams, and even lead
oneself and others around them, particularly in the
and inspire those around them.
context of social interaction. Emotional intelligence
can therefore allow for the formation of strong
Emotional intelligence is linked to intellectual
friendships, effective leadership abilities, high
intelligence (IQ), but operates as a separate system[3].
performing teams, and is usually identified in high
This was demonstrated by Damasio, who showed that
achieving individuals[2].
impairment to the prefrontal cortex impairs
emotional response and rational decision making,
It is broadly recognised that emotional intelligence is
while leaving intellectual and cognitive function
comprised of four main components:
intact[4]. It is generally felt that IQ is something fixed,
Self-awareness - this represents one’s ability
determined in development by the interplay of
to recognise one’s own emotions and
genetics and environment, whereas emotional
responses to a particular situation. This can
intelligence is more malleable and can be taught and
also extend to recognising one’s own
strengths and weaknesses, cultural influences,
biases, values, and how this impacts and
influences others.
Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?
Self-management - refers to the ability to
Developing skills in emotional intelligence has
control one’s emotional response to a
numerous benefits. Prati et al describe how a leader
particular situation, allowing for healthy, non-
with higher emotional intelligence directly correlates
disruptive interactions. In combination with
to higher team effectiveness[5]. A leader who can
self-awareness, the ability to temper and alter
recognise the emotional responses of those around
a response in a social setting can prevent
them, navigate how these team-members interact
escalating negative interactions and allow for
and communicate, and predict responses of those
healthy relationships to continue.
around them, can better motivate that team to
Social awareness - refers to the ability to
perform. A leader with high emotional intelligence can
recognise and act on the emotional responses
an environment of
of others in an empathic way. Reacting to
empowerment and support, resulting in team
these can facilitate communication, enhance
members who show higher self-motivation, and a
relationships and support others. Social
conscientious responsibility to want to achieve the
awareness can also extend to recognising
Farmer emotional intelligence v3
Journal of Health Policy & Opinions
best for that team. In business this can mean greater
emotions. It makes sense that this would be beneficial
profits, high employee satisfaction and worker
when it comes to doing this with a patient, as well as
retention. It can create teams that innovate, perform
when acting in a team. Conflict resolution skills can
highly, and produce high quality work. In medicine
also be utilised here with patients and family and
this can mean better performing teams that are
allow for far greater outcomes in those with high
providing better care for their patients.
emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence also plays a key role in dealing
It has been considered whether emotional intelligence
with conflict[6]. Being aware of your own emotions in a
should be included as part of a selection process for
situation allows you to control them, identify the best
doctors, given its numerous and recognised
approach based on the perceived needs of others and
benefits[10]. Peggy Wagner discussed the potential to
how your response interplays with their emotions, in
not only be able to identify those individuals with
order to proceed in a productive manner when
sufficient IQ required to manage the theoretical
working with others. Utilising this approach effectively
aspects of the profession, but also the emotional
can often avoid conflict. If there has been conflict,
intelligence to be able to supplement this. They argue
developing high emotional intelligence can allow for
the role of a physician extends beyond book learning
greater success at conflict resolution. A study by
to handling difficult patient interactions, working
Başoğul and Özgür demonstrated the improved
within many different teams, usually with leadership
outcomes between nurses when the nurse in charge
roles, all of which require emotional intelligence.
allocated to mediate the conflict, scored higher on
However, they felt that it is not a reliable way to
their emotional intelligence scales[7].
select candidates, and instead, should form part of
the educational experience after successful
A study by Shahid et al[8] reviewed how developing
emotional intelligence may benefit doctors. They
reported that inclusion of an educational intervention
to help improve emotional intelligence "may improve
There is an increasingly pressing need for doctors to
stress management skills, promote wellness and
understand their own emotional reactions to what
prevent burnout in resident physicians". With
they experience in their practice. Doctors are exposed
reported levels of burnout amongst doctors
to a variety of traumatic situations from distressed
increasing, they proposed the benefits of emotional
patients and relatives to witnessing death. Doctors are
intelligence would be widespread and significant.
human and most, if not all humans, will absorb some
Recognising your own emotions in response to
of the emotional burden even in their subconscious.
stressful environments, in this case in a clinical
setting, can allow you to develop healthier coping
The experience of doctors practicing in the current
mechanisms and prevent impact on inter-personal
climate is stressful with increasing regulations aimed
relationships and patient care. The study
at improving quality of care. Therefore, it is not
demonstrated significant improvements in emotional
surprising they are often overwhelmed in a tug-of-war
intelligence after an educational course, evidencing
between administrators, staff, colleagues and most
that this is a skill that can be learned and improved.
With many doctors
experiencing burnout, questions arise regarding their
A doctor with higher levels of emotional intelligence
mental health and work-life balance.
can lead to improved patient satisfaction. An
Improving emotional intelligence can help doctors
observational study by Hui-Ching Weng utilised self-
become more aware of the burden, allow them to
surveys across doctors and patients in an out-patient
regulate their response and develop healthy coping
setting and found that doctors with higher emotional
mechanisms. This can contribute towards improving
correlated to increased patient
doctor’s overall health. Further to this, recognising the
satisfaction[9]. One of the difficult tasks of any patient
impact of emotion as an individual opens a pathway
interaction is reaching a level of understanding with a
to respond to these traumatic situations with patients
patient that best allows you to mutually agree an
optimally and address personal work-life balance
appropriate management plan. We have already
discussed how emotional intelligence allows one to
regulate their own emotions, control them in their
Indeed, in reality it can be challenging to be both
responses, and perceive and react to others’
scientifically objective, clinically competent and
Farmer emotional intelligence v3
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Journal of Health Policy & Opinions
empathetic towards patients, but what about
8. Ramzan Shahid, Jerold Stirling, William
empathy towards ourselves? Perhaps the current
Adams. Promoting wellness and stress
“ideal” image of doctors is that of a clinical, rational,
management in residents through emotional
skilful, yet somewhat emotionally detached persona.
intelligence training. Advances in Medical
To be emotionally expressive often is perceived to
Education and Practice, 2018; Volume 9: 681
equate to unprofessionalism. It is these very images
DOI: 10.2147/AMEP.S175299
which prevent doctors from engaging with their
9. Hui-Ching Weng Chao-Ming Hung Yi-Tien Liu
patients emotionally and with their own feelings.
Yu-Jen Cheng Cheng-Yo Yen Chi-Chang Chang
Engaging with our own feelings forms the foundation
Chih-Kun Huang.
ssociations between
of empathy derived from a level of emotional
emotional intelligence and doctor burnout,
job satisfaction and patient satisfaction.
Medical Education Volume 45, Issue 8. First
Doctors should be supported with this emotional
burden in the healthcare environment. Empathy and
emotional intelligence should not only be expected
from doctors but should be actively promoted,
10. Peggy J. Wagner, PhD. Does High EI
assisted and cultivated in the medical profession.
(Emotional Intelligence) Make Better Doctors?
Practices like emotional intelligence and mindfulness
Virtual Mentor.
2006;8(7):477-479. doi:
provide vehicles for realistic long-lasting solutions
which will be imperative given the increasing
pressures doctors will continue to face. Institutional
support and educational intervention has been
proven to help and should be utilised at every possible
Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional Intelligence.
Why It Can Matter More than IQ.Learning,
24(6), 49-50.
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L. Melita Prati, Ceasar Douglas, Gerald R.
Ferris, Anthony P. Ammeter, M. Ronald
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Chan JC, Sit EN, Lau WM. Conflict
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