Healthcare Watercooler

Why Doctors Need Emotional Intelligence More Than IQ

Written by Miranda Pennington

However competent and caring a physician is, there are still some areas where they might struggle—within a business-centric clinic model, for example, or when resisting a strong pharmaceutical sales pitch. Fortunately one area where most doctors excel is emotional intelligence (EI), a key quality business consultants are constantly trying to instill in shark-toothed CEOs.

According to Dr. James C. Salwitz, over at, “EI is the ability to identify and manage both your own emotions and those of others; to be aware of and control feelings and, most importantly, help others use emotions, in order to make calm, clear decisions.” It’s the skill set that helps doctors master their own feelings and aid patients and families working through difficult moments. It should be no surprise that many doctors already have this talent–it’s what leads them into the job in the first place.

Not every doctor can be a superstar, of course. Whether through burnout, a personal lack of empathy, or a convergence of difficult personal and professional circumstances, some doctors have trouble getting or maintaining that control over their emotions.

It may help to make a mental checklist when going into a fraught situation. How quickly can you identify what you’re feeling? What the patient is feeling? What their family members are feeling? Are you thinking like a team player, and helping prepare your colleagues for pitfalls you can see coming? Can you anticipate the emotional needs of your patients and help them develop a plan to cope?

Make sure you’re putting all your empathy skills to good use, and you’ll be a sought-after doctor with an enviable EI!

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.