MedUtopia is pleased to welcome Russ Brown, NRP, to our team of medical education enthusiasts!

Russ is a paramedic and EMS clinical preceptor from Fort Worth, Texas. He is a passionate medical educator who frequently lectures at both regional and state EMS/emergency medicine conferences. He is also the founder and lead instructor for Med Inspired LLC. a medical education company specializing in prehospital medical education and is the creator and host of the Med Inspired podcast. Find him online via Twitter. In this first post, he kicks off a series exploring the concept of Emotional Intelligence.

Medical education has traditionally focused on a few select core competencies to access a learner’s procedural prowess and clinical knowledge base. Core competencies such as practice-based learning, medical knowledge, professionalism, and patient care are but a few of the skills and aptitudes assessed. But largely lacking from medical education is a focus on EI or emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and with empathy. Do any of these attributes sound like an important part of patient care that we may use in our daily practice?  Whether you are a physician, nurse, paramedic, or other healthcare provider; the ability to effectively demonstrate the above-mentioned attributes is fundamental to our success and the care of our patients.

Take a moment to stop and consider the advantages of having high emotional intelligence:

1. It is the single biggest predictor of workplace performance.

2. 90% of high achievers have demonstrated high emotional intelligence.

3. People with high emotional intelligence make an average of $29,000 more a year.

4. Emotional intelligence is thought to be the single biggest driver of effective leadership

In this blog post I will provide a basic introduction to emotional intelligence followed by a more in-depth breakdown of each component in subsequent blog posts. We will end our series with resources on how to assess your EI and tools to further develop your emotional intelligence.

But first…. Let’s explore a brief history of emotional intelligence and its basic components. John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey are the individuals that are credited with coming up with the term “Emotional Intelligence” in 1990. As previously described, they defined emotional intelligence as “a form of social intelligence that involves 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 action.” Fast forward to 1995 when Daniel Goleman, PhD released his book “Emotional Intelligence.” Dr Goleman is a Harvard-trained psychologist who was beginning to recognize the merits of emotional intelligence on success over cognitive intelligence. He further broke down emotional intelligence into two main areas each of which are then broken down into four subsets. These include:

Personal competence: This is your personal awareness and self-motivation. It is your ability to be acutely aware of your feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. Personal competence is made up of:

Self-awareness: The ability to perceive how your emotions are affecting you.

Self-motivation: How intrinsically driven you are (paramount as new learners)

Social competence: This is how well you communicate with others and understand their emotions and moods. Social competence  also has two parts:

Social Awareness: Your ability to understand the feelings of others

Relationship management: Using this awareness of others thoughts and feelings to facilitate good communication and interpersonal relationships.

In order to understand how emotional intelligence is such a powerful predictor of success over IQ calls for an understanding of some basic neuroscience. Intelligence and personality are fixed components over a person’s lifetime where emotional intelligence can be developed through a concept called neuroplasticity. An individual’s emotions start in an area called the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain where emotions are processed versus the frontal cortex where more rational thought process occurs. The amygdala is an almond shaped group of neurons that forms part of the limbic system. The term amygdala hijack is often used when the amygdala takes over the more rational part of the thinking brain such as when you are scared or angry. (Think the reaction you have when someone jumps out and scares you.) By employing strategies to foster emotional intelligence you can literally change the neuronal connections in your brain strengthening them and grow new connections. Evidence suggests that a single cell can grow some 15,000 new connections! These new connections further solidify the behaviors that are essential to forming new habits that will allow you to improve emotional intelligence.


“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself”-Abraham Maslow

                  The first step to improving your emotional intelligence is a keen awareness of your own abilities and shortcomings. In Dr. Goleman’s book, he describes this awareness as a keystone to emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is being able to understand your emotions and how you react to them. It’s an essential component of improving your performance and facilitating better relationships with others. Can you think of a time when your emotions got the better of you in your daily practice? Dealing with consultants? Giving a hand off report to another provider? Interacting with an irate patient? When you are better attuned to your emotions and why you are feeling that way you have the power to implement positive change. Self-awareness includes:

Emotional self-awareness: Knowing how your emotions affect performance.

Self-assessment: This is the ability to identify your own strengths and weakness.

Self-confidence: Knowing your own self-worth and capabilities.

OK, let’s get into some actual strategies you can use to improve your self-awareness!

Journaling: Journaling is a powerful tool in self-assessment. Write down your feelings and how you reacted to a situation Encourage your learners to do the same. Really take the time to dissect any challenging cases or difficult patient encounters you had and ask yourself why it was challenging and how you responded. Don’t be afraid to get detailed in your journal entries. Taking the time to reflect on these journaling entries will help you become better attuned to your self-awareness and better your performance next time.

Make a list: Make a list of all the roles you play in your life and daily practice. Are you a program director? A clinical preceptor?  Are you in charge of curriculum design or simulation? Don’t forget to list personal roles you play as well. Are you a mother or father, husband or wife?  Once you’ve made your list you are going to write down the feelings associated with each of those individual roles. For instance, does your role as a clinical preceptor make you feel happy? How about frustrated or anxious or bored? It’s important to be honest with yourself and really dissect your emotions associated with each role. By doing so you can better understand what changes you may need to implement in enforcing positive change.

Positive self-talk: When you encounter difficult situations use a power phrase such as “I’ve got this!” or “I can do this!” Its okay if negative thoughts enter your mind but don’t dwell on these thoughts. Replace the negative thoughts with your own positive power phrase and move on. Take the time to acknowledge the times when you may feel overwhelmed or inadequate. Think of challenging situations you have been in or may be in and the emotions that may be associated with those situations. How could you turn those feelings from negative to positive? How might you react? By envisioning positive outcomes to these potential situations, you will build those neural connections in your brain to handle them in the future and facilitate better communication with others when your amygdala wants to hijack your feelings!

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the immense benefits of improving your emotional intelligence. In the next blog post we will expound upon self-motivation and social awareness and how to incorporate this into our daily practice!