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Developing emotional intelligence among healthcare professionals

By Lori LaCivita
05 January 2017   |   3:10 am
Research has shown that high intelligence quotient (IQ) scores and professional experience do not necessarily guarantee success at work or in life.
Lori LaCivita

Lori LaCivita

Research has shown that high intelligence quotient (IQ) scores and professional experience do not necessarily guarantee success at work or in life. Rather, a more important determinant of success in these areas is emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to recognise, manage and respond well to one’s emotions and the emotions of others. It entails the ability to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to manage social relationships judiciously and empathetically. People who possess high levels of EI are able to build better connections and can adapt easily to life’s changes.

While many industries experience change, healthcare is notorious for its fast-paced and demanding working environment. Healthcare is a helping profession that focuses on improving the lives of others through building relationships and developing interactions to further a patient’s well-being. As a result, healthcare professionals need to be prepared to treat an array of health issues in patients and work with all personality types.

Nigeria’s health sector is poised for an overhaul, and the implementation of policies designed to strengthen the country’s healthcare system has already yielded positive results over the past few years. As rising consumer demand and competition lead an increasing number of health organisations to adopt patient-oriented care models, especially in the private sector, health workers strive to provide care that is respectful of their patients’ preferences but balanced with their own personal values and beliefs guiding medical decisions.

While intellect, education and on-the-job experience are invaluable, it is often someone with self-control, empathy and compassion as well as social skills who can improve a patient’s recovery. Those soft skills, or EI, are heavily relied upon in tense health situations and to address everyday health issues.

For example, imagine a patient who is fearful of getting injections. While this procedure may not affect many adults, it could be so terrifying for some that it causes them to evade medical treatment. The patient identifies two health service providers: one who may be highly experienced and competent in providing this service but fails to address or even notice the apprehension that the patient feels. Another might not be as knowledgeable or as capable but is more compassionate and comforting. The patient could recover in the same amount of time but have vastly different experiences. Both options are realities but neither is ideal. Healthcare professionals should exhibit both the knowledge and experience required as well as the empathy and support patients desire.

In addition to bedside manner, an equally important skill is communication. An increasing number of patients are using the Internet to explore information about their symptoms as academic journals, videos of the latest medical procedures and online health forums are readily available online. This development is creating a patient population that is better educated about their health issues and expects their healthcare providers to involve them in decision-making and treatment processes. Inadequate communication occasioned by the healthcare provider’s inability to listen and respond to the queries of these patients can lead to dissatisfaction, which may affect patient outcomes.

Effective communication skills are also essential amongst colleagues. Working in healthcare can be stressful and tempers can flare at critical times, but as a team-oriented field where more than one person is often responsible for the treatment of a patient, developing intrapersonal and interpersonal communication skills is imperative to delivering quality patient care. Respecting others’ opinions and valuing each other’s role as well as being approachable and administering self-control are key characteristics for successful healthcare professionals.

With the government’s ongoing efforts to improve health infrastructure and service delivery across the country and the ongoing conversation around the world on the need for healthcare professionals to improve their bedside manner, the demand for health professionals who can successfully manage the complexities of an increasingly knowledgeable patient population is expected to rise. This creates an opportunity for Nigerians to develop their EI whilst training to work in the healthcare sector.

In order to remain competitive, healthcare professionals must be able to observe the quality of the care that they provide from both clinical and emotional standpoints. While there are differences in their ability to understand their patients and colleagues’ perspectives due to differences in personal traits, healthcare professionals can all benefit from building and developing their levels of emotional awareness toward enhancing communication and cooperation in the workplace and improving quality of service delivery to patients.

The good news is that people are born with an IQ, but EI can be enhanced and developed over time and can be highly significant in the development of human potential, teamwork, leadership, stress reduction, creativity and innovation. Healthcare professionals who have invested in developing their skills in this area will likely stand a better chance of thriving in their profession while contributing to the delivery of improved healthcare services to Nigerians.

Dr Lori LaCivita is the Programme Director, Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Walden University.

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