Clinical Perspectives

Healthcare of the Future: Integrating Emotional Intelligence for Medical Students

December 07, 2011


Sarah E. Hoffe, MD

We’ve all heard the stories. The physician who walks into a patient’s cubicle in the emergency department with the lab results and tells them, “Your blood count was high because you have leukemia,” and then walks out. Or the physician who is angry because a patient wants a second opinion, and tells them never to come back. The common denominator is a fundamental lack of the physician’s self-awareness and self-management skills, which translates to poor relationship management in a patient encounter.

Lack of emotional intelligence permeates a fragmented healthcare delivery system where physicians have less face-to-face time with each patient and more computer time by virtue of the new laws mandating electronic medical records. Yet the example from the business community is clear: those leaders with high “EQ” are more successful. While MBA students do work in small interactive groups throughout their training, medical school curricula has traditionally been isolationist. However, The SELECT program at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine is about to change that. A new model of medical education has been created, using principles of emotional intelligence to integrate health systems knowledge, patient-centered care and leadership.

The program was conceived by former dean Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, in collaboration with Eliot Sussman, who at the time was CEO of the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The program features a longitudinal professional development curriculum with physician faculty coaches as well as peer coaching. The first two years are spent on the Tampa campus and the last two clinical years are focused at LVHN.

The director of the SELECT preclinical curriculum, Dr. Allesa English, notes, “Our program is truly unique on many levels. First, students are mentored by professional staff from the Teleos Leadership Institute as well as USF Health Morsani faculty, who teach topics like conflict resolution and provide individualized feedback to the students on their performance. Our vice dean for educational affairs, Dr. Alicia Monroe, for example, leads them through a session on Values Based Practice. Second, for the four years they are in medical school, they are assigned a professional development coach, who meets with them one-on-one each month to ensure they are practicing their EQ skills and on track. Third, our program includes ample opportunities for role playing, interaction with peers and small group projects.”

The SELECT curriculum is supplemental to the traditional staples of the medical school diet, such as anatomy lab and evidence-based medicine. With a wealth of EQ tools to guide them, the medical students of the future may be our nation’s creative innovators who improve the system for us all.