• The Gurus

Emotional Intelligence and its relevance to the surgical trainee

Popular in the corporate world emotional intelligence, or EQ as it is often causally shortened to, has become the latest buzzword in leadership skills. But what is emotional intelligence and how does it relate to the up and coming surgeon and surgical trainee?

What is emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined as ‘the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotion, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’ (Salovey & Mayer 1990). Daniel Goleman popularised this concept in 1995 with the publication of his book ‘Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ’ where he described five key domains to emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness– the ability to recognise and understand your moods, emotions and drives, in addition to their effects on others.

  2. Self-regulation– the ability to control, regulate and redirect disruptive moods and impulses.

  3. Motivation– Propensity to pursue goals with passion and persistence. A passion for work which goes beyond the external rewards such as status or money.

  4. Empathy– the ability to understand how others are feeling and their emotional make up. Skills in treating people according to their emotional reactions.

  5. Social Skills- interact with others and understand your own emotions and feelings of others. Having the proficiency to find common ground and build rapport.

Studies have shown that emotional intelligence is more important than one’s intelligence (IQ) in obtaining success in one’s life and career. Those with high emotional intelligence have been found to manage adversity better and bounce back from negativity. The ability to respond to changes in social environments and build supportive social networks relates their accurate perception, understanding and appraisal of other people’s emotions. As a result, emotional intelligent people often are relentlessly positive, assertive and tend to be more successful.

How does EQ relate to the surgical trainee?

Leadership is an important part of our day to day role as a surgeon, for example leading ward rounds, managing the theatre team and also liaising and working with managers. Indeed, being an effective leader is an important skill and requirement as outlined in the Royal College of Surgeons – Surgical Leadership and also Leadership and Management of Surgical Teams guidelines. In fact, the emotional intelligent competencies of self-awareness, self-discipline, persistence and empathy are specifically described in the document as being more significant leadership traits’ than the leader’s intelligence quotient.

Not only is emotional intelligence important for leadership, but it can also have an impact on patient safety and care. The effects of human factors in surgery has been heavily explored and a report from the Royal College of Surgeons states that‘patient safety is at the centre of care provided by all clinicians and is enhanced by effective leadership and teamworking by all clinical staff’’. As such emotional intelligence is a key part of leadership and human factors, therefore has potential to play a major factor in patient safety, although further studies demonstrating this are required. It is also thought that surgeons with greater emotional intelligence may be safer surgeons as they will have the ability to recognise of their own limitations owing to self-awareness and have greater communication and teamworking skills owing to increased social skills.


It is possible to develop leadership skills and improve emotional intelligence and therefore for a surgical trainee, we believe it is important to develop these skills early to ensure a successful and safe career, in addition to building resilience, which has been shown to be closely related to emotional intelligence. Having a greater awareness of the concept of emotional intelligence is the first step to developing this and we urge all trainees to develop their emotional intelligence by exploring this concept further.


Salovey P, Mayer JD. Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition, and personality. Yale University1990; 9: 185–211

Royal College of Surgeons – Surgical Leadership

26 views0 comments
core surgical training interview

© 2017-2020 BJK LTD



.Referral scheme

In collaboration with: