Understanding emotional intelligence in nursing
Ball, Lisa Sherry Debby
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Emotional intelligence (EI)—the ability to perceive, understand, use and manage emotions wisely—is emerging in nursing as an interesting topic of discussion and research. A great deal of literature regarding applicability of EI to nursing can be found within nursing education, leadership and practice. However, as many talk about the notion of EI in nursing, this area of inquiry remains largely unexplained and poorly understood. The purpose of this dissertation was to explore EI in nursing with the intention to more fully comprehend the use of EI in nursing practice. This dissertation is comprised of three stand-alone manuscripts each with their own specific purpose and composite body of knowledge aimed to address the global purpose of understanding EI in nursing. The first manuscript reports a concept analysis of the usage of the conceptual term emotional intelligence in nursing literature. Walker and Avant’s (2005) approach to conducting a concept analysis was the method used to guide this investigation. It was found that understanding of EI in nursing is muddled by the vast number of ways it is used and usage of EI within and across disciplines is wide-ranging. Ascertaining a cohesive understanding of EI relevant and useful for nurses in all domains of practice entailed consideration of both how EI is used as well as how it should be explicitly defined in nursing. A fruitful definition of EI in nursing was delineated as: “A nurse’s constructive ability to use self-awareness, empathy, and emotional regulation that facilitates and hallmarks the essence of proficient caring and nursing”. The second manuscript reports a systematic review of the current state of the science of EI. While discussion regarding EI in nursing literature is striking, actual empirical research on EI is only beginning to take place in nursing and remains fragmented. Understanding what is currently known about this topic, both within the greater scope of scientific literature as well as within the narrower scope of nursing science must be delineated in order to advance the science related to EI in nursing. The purpose of this manuscript was to report on a systematic review of the evidence that has been published about EI in nursing thus far and determine the current state of the science in this area. To do so, a synthesis of the general literature was summarized followed by a systematic literature search, review and analysis of empirical studies about EI in nursing as per Garrard’s (2007) health sciences matrix method. Results indicate that the state of the science of EI in general as well as in nursing is considerably underdeveloped compared to the discussion in this area. One of the main problems in the research to date is that various different conceptualizations and operational definitions are in use, making it difficult to merge findings and draw conclusions. Furthermore, study designs likely are not powerful enough to yield significant findings. The final manuscript is a report of an empirical study aimed at explaining the use of EI from the perspective of a select group of student nurses. The purpose of this mixed methods grounded theory study was to generate a theoretical model that explains how EI is used in nursing by a purposive sample of student nurses enrolled in an accelerated baccalaureate of science program. Caring for a human being emerged as the basic social process at the heart of which all other processes involving using EI in nursing—getting it; being caring; the essence of professional nurse caring; doing something to make someone feel better; and dealing with difficulty—are interconnected. The study at hand provides insight into using EI in a practice profession and lends some understanding as to the difference in theoretical bases from which EI stems. Implications for understanding, defining and using EI are further discussed.