The concept of emotional intelligence has grown in popularity over the last two decades, generating interest both at a social and a professional level. Concurrent developments in nursing relate to the recognition of the impact of self-awareness and reflexive practice on the quality of the patient experience and the drive toward evidence-based patient centred models of care. The move of nurse training into higher education heralded many changes and indeed challenges for the profession as a whole. Traditionally, nurse education has been viewed as an essentialist education, the main emphasis being on fitness for practice and the statutory competencies. However, the transfer into the academy confronts the very notion of what constitutes this fitness for practice.
Many curricula now make reference in some way to the notion of an emotionally intelligent practitioner, one for whom theory, practice and research are inextricably bound up with tacit and experiential knowledge. In this paper we argue that much of what is described within curriculum documentation is little more than rhetoric when the surface is scratched. Further, we propose that some educationalists and practitioners have embraced the concept of emotional intelligence uncritically, and without fully grasping the entirety of its meaning and application. We attempt to make explicit the manner in which emotional intelligence can be more realistically and appropriately integrated into the profession and conclude by suggesting a model of transformatory learning for nurse education.