Emotional Intelligence and What You Need to Know Before Your Next Travel Assignment
Understanding Emotional Intelligence as an Allied Traveler
Tim Fraticelli is a Physical Therapist, Certified Financial Planner™, and founder of PTProgress.com. He loves to teach PTs and OTs ways to save time and money in and out of the clinic, especially when it comes to documentation or continuing education. Follow him on YouTube for weekly videos on ways to improve your physical and financial health.
You probably already know about IQ or the Intelligence Quotient—in fact, as a medical professional who completed many years of formal education, odds are you have a relatively high IQ. But what about your EQ, your Emotional Quotient? Just because you’re professionally or academically intelligent doesn’t mean you’re emotionally intelligent, and the distinction means a world of difference for your co-workers, patients, and personal relationships.
While Emotional Intelligence is important to healthcare professionals across the industry, it’s even more critical for those who itinerate, such as allied travelers and travel nurses. The variable stress of relocating and adapting to new environments can take a hefty toll on an already strained profession. Your success in travel healthcare will be greatly influenced—dare I say determined—by your degree of Emotional Intelligence.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Psychologist Daniel Goleman defines Emotional Intelligence as “the way we handle ourselves and our relationships” through four specific domains: self-awareness, emotion management, social awareness, and relationship management.
We’ve all met someone—a fellow professional or supervisor, for instance—who is brilliantly intelligent yet lacks social cooperation skills. This kind of person is difficult to work with because they are unaware of social mores, out of control of their emotions, and inept at effective collaboration. Simply put, they are emotionally unintelligent.
Someone with high EQ, on the other hand, excels in each of Dr. Goleman’s identified domains. They recognize their own emotional thresholds and those of others and understand what it takes to manage stressful situations and strained relationships. An emotionally intelligent person is genuine, easily adaptable, and, if a healthcare professional, demonstrates good bedside manner.
You don’t have to choose between a high IQ and a high EQ. Just like conventional intelligence, Emotional Intelligence can improve and develop over time. While you navigate the challenges of itinerant healthcare, working on your EQ will pay great dividends to your success as a travel healthcare professional.
So, let’s consider what it means to have high Emotional Intelligence in terms of the 4 distinct factors.
4 Signs You Have High Emotional Intelligence
1. You’re Aware of Your Emotions
It may sound basic, but the first factor of Emotional Intelligence is simply being aware of your emotions: what you’re feeling and to what degree.
Someone with a high EQ will recognize when their emotions are ramping up high or running on empty. By contrast, a person with a low EQ may be unaware of their emotional response and may inadvertently take out their stress on coworkers or others.
For example, suppose you’re a travel nurse assigned to a new hospital setting with desperate staff shortages, high census numbers, and dwindling morale. In a word, the work environment is stressful. If you have a high EQ, you’ll quickly monitor how the external pressure affects your emotions, taking a minute to cope or blow off steam when needed. Oppositely, a low EQ may prohibit you from recognizing that you’re just one step away from blowing up at a supervisor or snapping at a patient.
When you think about what you’re feeling and why you may be feeling that way, you’ll develop good intuition and make better decisions. Emotional awareness is the building block of Emotional Intelligence and affects each of the following factors.
2. You Manage Emotions Appropriately
Beginning a new travel assignment can be exciting, challenging, stressful, and rewarding—and that’s just Day One! As your contract progresses, you’ll likely experience a small roller coaster of emotional responses from the many moving parts of itinerant life.
In truth, however, practically any job in healthcare, whether travel or not, involves stress. That’s nothing new. Although being aware of your emotions is undoubtedly important (see above point), awareness on its own isn’t enough. It’s your ability to manage those responses, for better or worse, that will determine your Emotional Intelligence.
A good challenge for developing a higher EQ is to practice something called “cognitive reframing.” Now, by “reframing” I don’t mean you should think of “sad” situations as “happy” or deny the emotion you’re feeling. Rather, to practice cognitive reframing is to challenge your perspective and consider a different point of view considering the situation.
Let’s return to the example of being a travel nurse at a short-staffed hospital. Perhaps an emergency has brought about a large influx of patients. Many aren’t pulling through, staff is stretched thin, and you’re feeling overwhelmingly discouraged. There’s no way to reframe such a situation as “happy,” especially when loss of life is concerned. But you can consider a different perspective. Instead of focusing on the number of patients you’ve “lost,” consider how your skills improved each patient’s experience in some form or another. By focusing on the individual impact you made, you will better manage your discouragement and find renewed morale.
You Demonstrate Empathy
Everyone has emotions. Your emotional awareness and management will help you, but it might not tell you anything about what someone else is feeling. So, the third aspect of EQ is social awareness: the ability to consider and recognize someone else’s emotions. This is often referred to as “empathy.”
When someone you know experiences loss, you may send them a “sympathy” card to express your regret and acknowledgment of their pain. Empathy goes a step further. To express empathy, you’d not only acknowledge their pain but also imagine how you’d feel in their place—and respond accordingly.
As a healthcare professional, you have a tremendous opportunity to empathize with your patients. You may not physically share your patient’s pain, but you can put yourself in their shoes and give them the care you’d like to receive if you had their condition.
For example, let’s say you’re a travel physical therapist. A patient comes into your clinic for regular treatments after undergoing a knee replacement surgery. Although you may not truly know what it feels like to have this kind of surgery, you can still be sensitive to the pain, discomfort, or anxiety your patient may feel about rehab.
High Emotional Intelligence in this situation doesn’t mean you’ll reduce the physical training your patient needs just to accommodate their anxiety. That ultimately would be unhelpful to the patient in the long run. Rather, if you have true social awareness, you’ll recognize the patient’s anxiety and set aside time to listen to their concerns. Then as you begin treatments, you’ll tailor your instructions and responses to the patient’s physical and emotional needs.
You Prioritize Building Relationships
Emotional Intelligence helps you recognize and manage both your emotions and your response to others’. As a result, a high EQ will greatly improve your ability to manage your relationships, be it with a coworker, patient, staffing agent, or family member. Building and safeguarding relationships are of utmost importance to someone of high EQ.
How do you build good relationships? Perhaps it’s easier to consider the things that corrupt or end relationships. Miscommunication, passive aggression, false assumptions, ultimatums, self-interest, lack of compassion—I could go on. No matter the type of relationship, you need trust, empathy, and respect for it to work, and that takes Emotional Intelligence.
Maybe you’re thinking, if I constantly travel for work, what kind of relationships can I feasibly build and maintain? True, one of the drawbacks to travel healthcare is that you don’t reliably work with the same people; you may not be part of a regular clinical team. However, by taking feedback well, facing difficult situations with poise, and using clear and effective communication, you’ll emulate the trust and dependability of a teammate.
Besides coworkers and patients, as a travel healthcare professional you’ll also build relationships with your staffing agency—such as your recruiter or consultant. Most of the time you’ll retain the same point of contact throughout your travel career, so take the opportunity to build a mutually respectful, collaborative relationship that will serve you well in the many assignments to come.
Finally, travel healthcare almost always involves distance relationships. Whether it’s a significant other, family member, or close friend, you may feel the strain of life on the road in the relationships that mean the most to you. A high EQ will help you nourish these relationships despite the distance with creativity, diligence, and trust.
Without a doubt, improving Emotional Intelligence can have a dramatic impact on your life—both personally and professionally. As a traveling healthcare professional who undergoes ever-changing work settings, this undervalued skill is indispensable.
To begin the journey to better Emotional Intelligence, do some honest, thorough self-examination. You could ask a trusted friend or family member, someone who knows you very well, to help you assess your EQ. There are also resources online such as quizzes and formal assessments that can give you a more precise picture on where you stand.
Based on your emotional self-awareness, emotion management, social awareness, and relationship management, ask yourself: How would I rank my EQ?
Give your time and attention to Emotional Intelligence and you’ll see a huge improvement in your social skills. Your travel career, your work relationships, your future patients, and your mental health will thank you.