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Helping Nursing Students Develop and Expand Their Emotional Intelligence

Fitzpatrick, Joyce J.

Nursing Education Perspectives: May/June 2016 - Volume 37 - Issue 3 - p 124
doi: 10.1097/01.NEP.0000000000000020
DEPARTMENTS: From the Editor


As nurse educators and leaders, we know the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) and recognize its value for ourselves and our students. What we may not know is how to increase key components of EI through our teaching techniques and practices.

Most of the literature reported on the EI of nurses is focused on nurse leaders and nurse executives (Smith, Profetto-McGrath, & Cummings, 2009). There are a few studies of EI among nursing students (Benson, Ploeg, & Brown, 2010; Li, Cao, Cao, & Liu, 2015; Montes-Berges & Augusto, 2007; Rochester, Kilstoff, & Scott, 2005), with the overall conclusion that, as nurse educators, we should do more to promote EI among our students. The underlying assumption is that, because therapeutic relationships form the foundation of all of our nursing work, EI, focused on understanding the self in the context on one’s personal and social environment, should be an important characteristic of nurses. Nurses need EI to practice effectively and to enhance their interactions with recipients of care, family members, and all those individuals within the organizations in which nurses work.

Aside from a few opinion-based articles on the need for EI among nurses in practice, there is a paucity of research in the area. It is important to not only generate additional studies but also to figure out how we can teach our students the competencies that underpin EI. Essentially, it is important to demonstrate the quality outcomes of our educational programs and the care that our students deliver during their educational programs and throughout their subsequent careers.

One resource for assisting in teaching EI and continuing to develop our EI skills is the Emotional Competence Framework (Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, 2016). This framework delineates the personal skills (self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-motivation) and the social competence skills (including social awareness and social skills) necessary for EI.

Nurse educators will immediately recognize that the personal competence skills characteristic of EI are highly consistent with the therapeutic relationship that forms the basis of our nursing practice. Key components of self-awareness are emotional awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence, all skills that are critical to effective interventions. The self-regulated, emotionally intelligent person must have self-control and be trustworthy, conscientious, adaptable, and innovative. Self-motivation requires one to strive to meet a standard of excellence and assumes a commitment to goals and personal initiatives as well as optimism.

We can continue to develop these EI skills in our students by assuring the introduction of leadership training and self-discovery early in the educational content of basic nursing programs. Students can be taught to consider their own experiences as a way of learning about the experiences of others and as a way to develop appreciation of the diversity that characterizes our multicultural society. Reflective learning is key to developing EI. Weaving exercises that help students develop skills in reflection will boast both self-awareness and social awareness and can be expected to ultimately enhance relationships with others, whether professional colleagues or those who are in our care.



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Benson G., Ploeg J., Brown B. (2010). A cross-sectional study of emotional intelligence in baccalaureate nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 30, 49–53. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2009.06.006
Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. (2016). The emotional competence framework. Retrieved from
Li Y., Cao F., Cao D., Liu J. ( 2015). Nursing students’ post-traumatic growth, emotional intelligence, and psychological resilience. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 22, 326–332. doi:10.1111/jpm.12192
Montes-Berges B., Augusto J. M. ( 2007). Exploring the relationship between perceived emotional intelligence, coping, social support and mental health in nursing students. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 14, 163–171.
Rochester S., Kilstoff K., Scott G. (2005). Learning from success: Improving undergraduate education through understanding the capabilities of new nurse graduates. Nurse Education Today, 25, 181–188. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2004.12.002
Smith K., Profetto-McGrath J., Cummings G. G. (2009). Emotional intelligence and nursing: An integrative literature review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 46, 1624–1636. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2009.05.024
© 2016 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.