Emotional Intelligence in the Nursing Profession


Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence often referred also as Emotional Intelligence Quotient is the ability of an individual to perceive, assess and manage emotions of his own self and of other people. Salovey and Mayer (1990) define Emotional Intelligence as the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions. Emotional Intelligence has four main components, namely, the ability to:

1.Perceive emotions;

2.Utilize these emotional perceptions to accomplish various activities or tasks;

3.Understand emotional variations;and

4. Manage emotions to achieve goals.

Thus, Emotional Intelligence is a measure of an individual's capability and requires tools to assess this capability. This includes the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), The Emotional Competency Inventory (ECI) and the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal (Bradberry and Greaves, 2005) based on Goleman's model of emotional intelligence, The Bar-On Emotion Quotient Inventory-EQ-I (Reuven Bar-On,2006), The Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test (SUEIT), the Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Assessment (SEI) and the Schutte Self-Report Emotional Intelligence Test (SSEIT) based on the Trait EI model (Petrides and Furnham, 2000).

Emotional Intelligence in Nursing Profession

The nursing profession demands that the nurse, in the process of care, has to interact with the patients, the medical fraternity and the health care workers constantly. Hence, "Nurse-Patient Interaction" is the pulse of the nursing practice. This interaction is not just conversation. It is a complex process that involves nurse perception, understanding of the patient emotions and utilization of the perceptions to manage patient situations towards the goal of effective patient care.

This involves Emotional Intelligence. The concept of emotional intelligence has grown in popularity among nurses over the last two decades, generating interest both at a social and a professional level (Dawn Freshwater and Theodore Stickley, 2004). Today, patient care not only includes quality medical care but also a care concept that encompasses respecting patient's goals, preferences and choices, obliging their emotional, social and spiritual needs using the strengths of interdisciplinary resources. Many patients suffer only when they do not receive adequate care for the symptoms accompanying their serious illness.

Thus, care cannot be confined to the physical aliment but also the psychological and spiritual needs. Hence, the role of Emotional Intelligence in the nursing profession should be viewed in two dimensions:

1) The Nurse's perception and understanding of the patient's emotions, and

2) The Nurse's utilization of these perceptions to achieve the goal of managing complex situations towards quality patient care.

Nurses should develop skills to assess patient's responses to the illness. This requires active self-introspection of the events, assessment of the events, psychological understanding of the patients and above all a genuine concern for the ill. The perception cannot be universal in the sense that every patient differs and has different attitudes on various issues of life and has varied levels of understanding and withstanding capabilities.

It should be recognized that the nurses are confronted not only by the patient emotions but also their own. This is especially true in situations where some patients will die despite the best efforts due to diseases like cancer and HIV or various other factors. Nurse have to confront and manage their own emotions also in situations, where, some terminally ill patients request for assistance for suicide in states like Oregon, which have a legal back up for physician assisted deaths.

Factors That Influence Nurse Application Of Emotional Intelligence

The gender, age and health condition of patients also influences the application of Emotional Intelligence. For example, it is difficult to interact to an old patient whose hearing capacity would be at a reasonably low level or whose perception has diminished due to aging. Research studies pertaining to factors related to nurse interactions with elderly people have shown that the educational level of nurses influenced nurse interactions with elderly patients (Wilma et.al, 1999). Non-verbal interactions play a vital role in nurse-patient perceptions. The non-verbal interactions include patient-directed eye gaze, affirmative head nod, smiling, learning forward, touch and instrumental touch (Wilma, 1999).

Advantages of Application Of Emotional Intelligence in Nursing Practice

Studies conducted to examine the role of perceived emotional intelligence (PEI) measured by the Trait Meta-Mood Scale, in the use of stress-coping strategies, in the quantity and quality of social support and in the mental health of nursing students have shown that emotional intelligence minimizes the negative stress consequences (Montes & Augusto ,2007).

Anne (2004), by a literature review concludes that the modern day demands of nursing depend on the skills of emotional intelligence to achieve a patient centered care. There is no doubt that Emotional intelligence in nursing leads to more positive attitudes, greater adaptability, improved relationships and increased orientation towards positive values (Kristin and Elisabeth, 2007). A clear relation between emotional intelligence and adaptive success has been detected in nurses caring for people with mental retardation.

The study conducted with 180 Dutch nurses using the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory, Utrecht-Coping List, Utrecht-Burnout Scale, MMPI-2, and GAMA has revealed the importance of emotional intelligence in reducing nurse burnout (Linda Gerits et.al, 2004). A similar study with mental health nurses has found that Emotional Intelligence stimulates the search for a deeper understanding of a professional mental health nursing identity (Kristin and Elisabeth, 2004).

The study has highlighted the nurse relationship with the patient, supervision, motivation and responsibility as important factors in Emotional Intelligence.Humpel & Caputi (2001), have found a significant relationship between emotional competency and nurse's years of experience with the relationship in direct proportion.


It should be recognized that emotional competencies are not mere innate talents, but learned capabilities that must be developed to achieve outstanding performance (Goleman, 2001). Nursing empathy, the ability of the nurse to perceive and reason, as well as the capacity to interact are seen as core characteristics of a nurse to build relationship with the ill (Reynolds et.al, 2000) towards care.

Dawn Freshwater and Theodore Stickley (2004) suggest that emotional intelligence should be more realistically and appropriately integrated into the nursing profession by a model of transformatory learning for nurse education.Today,emotional intelligence is probed as an important characteristic for building successful nursing leadership (Vitello-Cicciu,2002), enhancing nursing performance and reducing nurse burnout.


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    Articles in this issue:


    • Masthead

      Editor-in Chief:
      Kirsten Nicole

      Editorial Staff:
      Kirsten Nicole
      Stan Kenyon
      Robyn Bowman
      Kimberly McNabb
      Lisa Gordon
      Stephanie Robinson

      Kirsten Nicole
      Stan Kenyon
      Liz Di Bernardo
      Cris Lobato
      Elisa Howard
      Susan Cramer

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