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Emotional intelligence in medical education: a critical review


  • M Gemma Cherry,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Clinical Psychology, Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
    • Correspondence: M Gemma Cherry, Division of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool, Whelan Building, The Quadrangle, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69 3GE, UK. Tel: 00 44 151 794 5614; E-mail:

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  • Ian Fletcher,

    1. Division of Health Research, Faculty of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
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  • Helen O'Sullivan,

    1. Department of Medical Education, School of Medicine, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
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  • Tim Dornan

    1. Department of Educational Development and Research, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands
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Emotional intelligence (EI) is a term used to describe people's awareness of, and ability to respond to, emotions in themselves and other people. There is increasing research evidence that doctors’ EI influences their ability to deliver safe and compassionate health care, a particularly pertinent issue in the current health care climate.


This review set out to examine the value of EI as a theoretical platform on which to base selection for medicine, communication skills education and professionalism.


We conducted a critical review with the aim of answering questions that clinical educators wishing to increase the focus on emotions in their curriculum might ask.


Although EI seems, intuitively, to be a construct that is relevant to educating safe and compassionate doctors, important questions about it remain to be answered. Research to date has not established whether EI is a trait, a learned ability or a combination of the two. Furthermore, there are methodological difficulties associated with measuring EI in a medical arena. If, as has been suggested, EI were to be used to select for medical school, there would be a real risk of including and excluding the wrong people.


Emotional intelligence-based education may be able to contribute to the teaching of professionalism and communication skills in medicine, but further research is needed before its wholesale adoption in any curriculum can be recommended.

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