Looking for Emotional Intelligence in the Healthcare Workers of Tomorrow

Jun 25, 2018 | Trends and Analysis

We have had many conversations with PA program directors and admissions folks about what they look for in an applicant to a PA program. While academic preparedness and academic strength are critical for any admissions candidate hoping to succeed and excel in the demanding PA curriculum, there are other traits these prospective students will need in order to excel as high-functioning healthcare professionals.
After all, healthcare delivery is a particularly human activity requiring intimate interaction with patients and their families. It also requires that the practitioner be able to work effectively as part of a highly functioning healthcare delivery team. PAs work in a number of different clinical and community settings, but always under the supervision of a physician, and often alongside other practitioners including NPs, RNs, and medical assistants.

In our many conversations with health professions educators, we have attempted to identify the key attributes they look for in applicants beyond mere academic prowess. While opinions and preferences range from grit and determination to empathy and compassion, it seems like it all comes down to one thing: emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is broadly defined as “the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)” (Colman, Andrew. 2008. A Dictionary of Psychology. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199534067).

We found an article written by Christopher D. Connors in Quartz that nicely encapsulates the core components of emotional intelligence and dovetails closely with what these admissions folks tell us they are looking for in their applicants. Here are ten attributes of emotional intelligence that come up in our conversations, providing an excellent starting point for further discussion:

1. Empathy – Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. This is a critical attribute for any mature human being who values meaningful relationships with others.

2. Self-Awareness – Self-awareness, simply put, is how we see ourselves and our understanding of how others may see us. Metacognition, our understanding of our own thinking, is closely related, as it is critically important for health practitioners to understand their own limitations and seek help when necessary.

3. Curiosity – We often hear that intellectual curiosity is a key attribute of someone who wants to succeed and learn. Health professions workers are supposed to be lifelong learners and intellectual curiosity is a key part of that drive.

4. Analytical Mind – Admissions folks often tell us that critical thinking is a key attribute for success in a demanding curriculum and that students absolutely need to be able to apply what they learn. Moreover, they must be able to use analytical thinking to solve complex problems, including complex clinical challenges.

5. Belief – This is sometimes referred to as attitude or the right attitude. It is also a component of confidence. Confident people take necessary and appropriate risks to effect change or solve problems.

6. Distinguishing between needs and wants – Having a good perspective on this is an important component of maturity. Mature people have stronger interpersonal relationships.

7. Passion – Admissions folks look for applicants who are passionate about what they do or hope to do: passion for wanting to make a difference, passion for wanting to help people, and passion for wanting to serve their communities.

8. Optimism – Who wants to work with or be treated by someone who is pessimistic? Optimism is not just a feel-good trait; the optimistic person is open to new ideas and to the belief that there might be a better way to solve a problem or meet a challenge.

9. Adaptability – Life is unpredictable. Unforeseen challenges come our way. Circumstances change. The adaptable person can weather these uncertainties and make the necessary adjustments to excel and thrive. As they say, the only constant is change. We need to be able to adjust to that.

10. Desire to help others succeed – This is a key attribute of a leader. Leadership means helping others to move forward, to help your team move forward, to help find a path to success.

Discerning whether applicants have these characteristics is no easy task and requires a very holistic approach, but finding applicants who have many or all of these traits can be a reliable indicator of the likelihood of their success in whatever they do. See the original article from which this was adapted:

To increase your emotional intelligence, develop these 10 qualities

Related Topics: Admissions