By Kora Behrens, Clinical Nurse Manager, Medical Solutions
What comes to mind when you hear the term “emotional intelligence”? More importantly, what does emotional intelligence have to do with nursing? Emotional intelligence is an ever-evolving and changing concept, and something that’s becoming increasingly important in the realm of nursing and patient care.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions as well as the emotions of others they interact with. Possessing this ability is important in nursing because it enables nurses to make better decisions, manage their patients more efficiently, and improve relationships amongst their interdisciplinary teams — and it follows that emotional intelligence consequently has a big impact on the quality of care that patients receive. Due to the influence that emotional intelligence has on patient care, it is important to understand the concept and its relevance to nursing practice.
Many arguments have been made on whether emotional intelligence is a cognitive ability or a personality trait. Some believe that emotional intelligence can be learned, and others believe that it is simply a trait that some possess and some don’t. The most likely reality is that emotional intelligence is actually a combination of ability and a personality trait. The take-away from this controversy and difference in opinion is: How can we recognize traits of emotional intelligence and how can we instill these skills in our nurses at the bedside?
Traits associated with emotional intelligence include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and communication ability. Equally important to these traits is the ability to empathize with others and to motivate others and yourself. Individuals with emotional intelligence are motivated to want to try to understand their own internal emotions as well as other people’s emotions. It is reasonable to conclude from these findings and characteristics that nurses who are attentive to themselves and their own emotions and reactions tend to be nurses who possess emotional intelligence.
Implications for Patient Care
What does any of this have to do with patient care? If you think about nursing and the emotions that a nurse experiences throughout the day, you know that managing these emotions is crucial to providing the care needed for your patients.
For example, let’s say that you’re caring for a patient who is dying from diabetes. This patient is non-compliant and has been all their life. You, as the nurse, start to experience emotions in caring for this patient because your dad passed away from complications related to diabetes. Your dad, unlike your patient, was very diligent in caring for himself and he always did what he could to make sure he was as healthy as possible. For you as the nurse, this situation may expose some emotions that you didn’t know you had, like frustration, anger, or sadness. It is important to be able to recognize such emotions and to reflect on the situation so that you don’t take it out on the patient. Emotionally intelligent nurses are self-aware in that they know what they are feeling, and they know the emotion a certain situation elicits. They will be able to empathize with their patient and have the awareness to treat this patient professionally, rather than to get angry at the patient’s noncompliance.
Emotional intelligence is an up-and-coming concept that can really make an impact on patient care. Self-discovery can be a huge part of that for many nurses and healthcare professionals. It is time for the nursing profession and the healthcare industry at large to get on board and to implement this into nursing so that patient care can advance and progress in the right direction.