Emotional Intelligence in Nursing and the Impact on Nurse & Patient Well-Being

Most people appreciate the vast scientific, practical and administrative knowledge required to be a successful nurse, not to mention the daily physical demands of bedside care. But how do you account for the emotional requirements for the job, and how emotional intelligence impacts the well-being of patient and nurse alike?

As the healthcare industry and nurses themselves process the three-year long pandemic, chief among the concerns and questions is: how do we help nurses balance care for themselves along with the need to serve patients?

Impact on Hospitals

The issue of nurse well-being has cast a spotlight on everything from hospital management, to improved operations and logistics in public health and medicine. Hospital administrators understand the risks. Turnover among nurses can quickly add expenses to a balance sheet. According to the NSI Nursing Solutions survey, the average cost of a single turnover for a bedside RN is $40,038. That translates to an average hospital loss of between $3.6m to $6.5m/yr. Each percent decline in RN turnover costs the average hospital an additional $270,800/yr.

Of course, for nurses themselves, the costs and risks go well beyond lost productivity, satisfaction and income. Increasingly, experts look at our understanding of emotional intelligence and the role it can play in nurse self-care. 

Emotional Intelligence

At the bedside, nurses track and interpret a steady stream of vital signs and other data, along with a patient’s subtle and not-so-subtle feedback. The lines between caring for and caring about a patient inevitably collide and cross.

Along with the emotions of patients, families and colleagues, nurses juggle their own responses — sometimes in the moment and at other times during a rare minute for reflection.

Four components of emotional intelligence

Nurses can consider four components of emotional intelligence that support healthy relationships and personal balance: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

  1. Self-awareness

Some people learn to identify and describe personal emotional reactions in childhood. Others learn in the daily interactions of the adult world. The insights that come with routine self-awareness allows one to connect emotional reactions to particular triggers — people or situations. One idea used by professionals across occupations is to give yourself a five-minute emotional time out to collect yourself before re-engaging a challenging exchange.

  1. Self-management

The daily routine of a nurse is inherently unpredictable — that’s part of the profession’s appeal. Emotional intelligence insights connected to self-management allow you to interrupt impulsive feelings and behaviors before they get the better of you or a situation. Behind every emotional response is a belief system — some underlying rules we carry about ourselves, about others and about the world. Nursing inevitably challenges everyone’s world view — and asks that you be open to change, expansion and a more complex understanding.

  1. Social awareness

Emotional intelligence can be directed inward or outward. As the collective stress of the culture intensifies, so too does the need for more refined and resilient social awareness. The expression “reading the room” describes an ability to step back and observe the cues — posture and body language, gestures, fashion statements, voice intonation, verbal power moves — that create the context of any emotional exchange. In clinical settings, it’s crucial to find ways to bring people together and create relational ties despite the inherently cold atmosphere of a hospital or the frequent shift changes and people movement.

  1. Relationship management

Given the pace of a typical clinical day, much of what gets communicated between co-workers and patients happens non-verbally. Often, the key to relationship management is becoming more conscious of nonverbal cues — an otherwise instinctive aspect of our communication style. Skills such as active and reflective listening, allow you to hear others fully without interruption and respond with a non-emotional summary of what you’ve heard if a response is prompted. These and other relationship management skills help to lay the foundation for trust with others.

Good for Nurse and Patient

Few professions match nursing in its demand to sift through emotionally charged interactions and decisions on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Even a minor health crisis will stir strong emotions — guilt, fear, shame, grief — in patients, family members and co-workers. Studies suggest a connection between your nurses’ ability to identify and track emotions, and nurse satisfaction and patient success. Emotional intelligence has been correlated with improved retention, less burnout and both physical and emotional wellness in nurses.

The Future of Nurse Self Care

Experts agree that the health care world that we know and interact with today will change in the years ahead. The John Carroll University BSN program has been designed with the awareness that nurses will become more specialized in their practice (health assessment, pharmacology, disease prevention, differential diagnosis and disease management), interact more with predictive technologies  and assume more advanced practice roles. Along with a degree such as a BSN from John Carroll, and additional certifications and training, nurses will need particular and enduring character traits and human interaction skills — deep emotional intelligence — to thrive and survive for the long haul.