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Boosting emotional intelligence in physicians can protect against stress, burnout

People with high emotional intelligence have more effective coping strategies, enabling them to be more resilient and better able to manage stress.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor


A Loyola Medicine study demonstrated that an educational curriculum for physicians in training improves their emotional intelligence, which may help protect against burnout. Before and after completing the educational intervention, doctors took a test measuring their emotional intelligence and significant increases in scores for emotional intelligence, stress management and overall wellness were found at the end. 


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Teaching emotional intelligence skills "may improve stress management skills, promote wellness and prevent burnout in resident physicians," the researchers wrote.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. People with high emotional intelligence have more effective coping strategies, enabling them to be more resilient and better able to manage stress. And unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be taught.

The Loyola study included 20 pediatric and 11 med-peds residents (combining pediatrics and internal medicine) at Loyola, who completed a 133-item emotional intelligence survey before and after undergoing emotional intelligence training. The survey is called Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0, EQ-i 2.0.

The emotional intelligence training was integrated into the resident educational curriculum and focused on self-awareness (being aware of one's emotions), self-management (ability to manage one's emotional reactions to situations and people), social awareness (ability to pick up emotions in others) and social skill. The educational intervention included didactic teaching, discussions and videos.


Physician burnout has reached alarming levels, with some studies finding it affects at least half of all doctors. Burnout is defined as overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, detachment from work and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. 

The trend is even worse among healthcare leaders, 73 percent of whom feel at least some degree of overstress, according to one poll

Earlier this year, a Medscape National Report on Physician Burnout and Depression found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. physicians report feeling burned-out, depressed or both, with one in three admitting that their feelings of depression have an impact on how they relate to patients and colleagues. 

And physician burnout can hurt the bottom line. Research has shown, for instance, a consistent relationship between higher levels of physician burnout and lower levels of patient safety and quality of care.