Emotional intelligence (EI) is increasingly discussed as having a potential role in medicine, nursing, and other healthcare disciplines, both for personal mental health and professional practice. Stress has been identified as being high for students in healthcare courses. This study investigated whether EI and stress differed among students in four health professions (dental, nursing, graduate mental health workers, medical) and whether there was evidence that EI might serve as a buffer for stress.
The Schutte Emotional Intelligence and the Perceived Stress scale instruments were administered to four groups of healthcare students in their first year of study in both the autumn and summer terms of the 2005-6 academic year. The groups were undergraduate dental, nursing and medical students, and postgraduate mental health workers.
No significant differences were found between males and females nor among professional groups for the EI measure. Dental students reported significantly higher stress than medical students. EI was found to be only moderately stable in test-retest scores. Some evidence was found for EI as a possible factor in mediating stress. Students in different health profession courses did not show significant differences in Emotional Intelligence.
While stress and EI showed a moderate relationship, results of this study do not allow the direction of relationship to be determined. The limitations and further research questions raised in this study are discussed along with the need for refinement of the EI construct and measures, particularly if Emotional Intelligence were to be considered as a possible selection criterion, as has been suggested by some authors.