Investment in emotional intelligence in health care needed

Published 16 April 2012

The health care sector should invest in more training and education in emotional intelligence or run the risk of becoming an industry unable to empathise or communicate effectively with patients, according to a senior lecturer at Southern Cross University.

Dr John Hurley, from the School of Health and Human Sciences, has just released a book titled Emotional Intelligence in Health and Social Care: A Guide for Improving Human Relationships. The book is co-authored by Paul Linsley, a senior lecturer with the University of Lincoln, England.

Emotional intelligence, or EI, is the ability to monitor one’s own and another’s feelings, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. As a result, decisions are based not only after assessing their outcome, but also on the emotional qualities associated with the decisions or judgement.

EI has been used by the business world for decades as a measurement for appropriate managers and supervisors, but the health sector, which is based on servicing the needs of patients both physically and emotionally, lags behind according to Dr Hurley.

“The education and training of health care workers at the moment is based on using simulators and mannequins and while they can be wonderful teaching aids it is not everything,” he said.

“Then once students move into work, they are being measured more and more by their technical skills and competencies and that is impacting on the human endeavour aspect of health care.

“EI was first used by corporate America and it could be worthwhile to test for in the medical, nursing and allied health sectors, as well as social care services.

“I think sometimes as health and social care practitioners it is very easy to hide behind an instrument or a technique rather than engage with the patient.

“That could be a defence mechanism because workers in the health care sector see things every day that the general population does not see. But if it is a defence mechanism then the person doing that will not cope very long in the industry.”

According to Dr Hurley, hardly any health care degrees in Australia offer emotional intelligence as part of their curriculum.

“It needs to be integrated into the curriculum,” he said.

“Part of writing the book was to raise the profile of the field and the need for it to be considered within the health care sector.”

Photo: Dr John Hurley.

Media contact: Steve Spinks media officer, Southern Cross University Gold Coast and Tweed Heads, 07 5589 3024 or 0417 288 794.