The capacity for recognizing the feelings of others is an invaluable asset for those with careers in nursing—and emotional intelligence is something you can learn as you earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

A nurse with stethoscope draped around her neck reaches out to a seated patient.

“How could someone so smart act so dumb?” That admittedly harsh question sparked a conversation in which psychology professors John Mayer (Yale University) and Peter Salovey (University of New Hampshire) coined the term “emotional intelligence.” In short, they determined that smart decision making requires more than the intellect as measured by traditional IQ.* Years later, the concept of emotional intelligence is being applied to a number of professions in order to achieve greater success— including the field of nursing.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to assess and control your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others and groups. For nurses, this is an important skill that has been incorporated into a number of curriculums—including traditional and online nursing degree programs—with a goal of training nurses to incorporate emotional intelligence into their decision making and patient care.

One of the primary models for emotional intelligence comes from psychologist and author Daniel Goleman and classifies emotional competencies into four specific domains. They include:*

Self-Awareness
Social Awareness
Self-Management
Relationship Management

For those enrolled in traditional or online BSN programs, these four domains can be directly related to the qualities you possess as a nurse.

Self-Awareness: Knowing what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it is self-awareness. This is the basis of good intuition and decision making, and can indicate a number of valuable qualities, including strong problem-solving skills, commitment, teachability, and passion.

Self-Management: Nursing careers often require you to effectively handle stressful emotions so that your work is not affected. This is especially important when working with terminally ill patients, or with anyone who might be suffering. Self-management skills also include positive emotions and aligning our actions with our passions.

Social Awareness: Empathy and understanding emotional cues are not always taught as part of typical bachelor’s degree programs, but for nurses, they should be. A high level of social awareness indicates that you are a good listener, generous, and are able to recognize or anticipate a patient’s needs—all qualities of a great nurse.

Relationship Management: School of nursing students (and graduates) who have strong emotional intelligence can influence others, manage conflict, and make others feel good about themselves—in other words, they have strong relationship-management skills.

For many nursing students, emotional intelligence comes naturally. For others, it can be—and should be—learned. If you’re interested in a career in nursing and earning your degree with the flexibility that online nursing degree programs can offer, explore the School of Nursing at Walden University.


* Six Seconds, The Emotional Intelligence Network, Dr. Daniel Goleman on the Origins of Emotional Intelligence, on the Internet at www.6seconds.org/2005/01/30/goleman-emotional-intelligence.

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