Emotional Intelligence Training Might Help Doctors Relate to Patients

Training in emotional intelligence could help medical residents and fellows become more sensitive toward their patients, according to a commentary in the Sept. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Patients are less likely to complain and more likely to have positive health results if their physician communicates well with them. For these and other reasons, medical schools include interpersonal and communication skills in their training programs. The JAMA article argues that medical education needs to delve even deeper to help doctors relate better.

The four components of emotional intelligence — the abilities to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions — are building blocks for interpersonal and communication skills. The challenge in medical education is to understand the psychology behind these skills and build programs to develop them, according to commentary authors Daisy Grewal, PhD, and Heather Davidson, PhD, of the department of medical education at Stanford University Medical Center.

The goal is to learn “how we can improve assessment tools to better understand how to train better doctors,” Davidson said.

Currently, many graduate medical education programs use self-assessments, which tend to rely on students’ perceptions of their own personalities. The beauty of ability measurement for emotional intelligence evaluation, according to the authors, is that it could separate out personality traits from these core abilities, giving trainees a more objective assessment of their skills.

The JAMA authors suggest that future studies could link emotional intelligence measurements with performance evaluations. Graduate students who score low in one or a combination of abilities might benefit from targeted training in their weaker abilities.

Grewal and Davidson note that not all educators agree on the value of emotional intelligence. Few studies have tested the benefits of training programs, and none has done so within medical education.

Some research shows that emotion skills training in medical schools has improved empathy and “soft” skills, suggesting that the right kind of training might help those students who are not natural-born communicators to learn and develop their abilities — assuming they can accurately read and manage their own emotions and those of others.

“Hopefully, such training will improve the caring environment in medicine,” Davidson said.

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