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Context  Much attention and emphasis are placed on the selection of medical students. Although selection measures have been validated in the literature, it is not yet known whether high scores at selection are indicative of high levels of interpersonal aptitude. Emotional intelligence (EI) is reported to be a predictor of the interpersonal and communications skills medical schools are looking for in applicants.

Objectives  This study describes EI scores in medical students and explores correlations between EI and selection scores at the University of Western Australia.

Methods  Senior medical students from a 6-year undergraduate curriculum completed the online MSCEIT® (Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test) survey. Scores for EI were described and correlations between EI and Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT), Interview and Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) scores were analysed.

Results  Mean scores of the 177 respondents (58%) reflected the normal distribution of scores (mean 98, standard deviation [SD] 15.0) in the general population. Males had higher EI scores than females and Asian students demonstrated higher EI Total and branch scores than White students. The highest and lowest EI scores were obtained for the branches Understanding Emotions (mean 110, SD 19.0) and Perceiving Emotions (mean 94, SD 15.6), respectively. No significant correlations were found between EI Total or EI branch scores and any of the selection scores (UMAT, TER and Interview).

Discussion  This study offers information that can be used to compare the EI scores of medical students with those of other health professionals. No relationship was identified between cognition (measured by the UMAT) and skill (measured by the MSCEIT®) in the interpersonal domain and EI. Further studies are required to explore whether UMAT Section 2 is measuring EI, if there are associations between EI and academic performance and if EI can be used to predict the performance of junior doctors.