Importance of Emotional Intelligence and Soft Skills as a Nurse Educator

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EI and soft skills are vital to the education of the next generation of healthcare providers.

Nurse educators spend their days helping students understand the intricacies of patient care, documenting interactions in electronic health records, and coordinating educational experiences with other instructors. Over and above all of their duties are emotional intelligence (EI) and soft skills — including teamwork, empathy and effective communication — that encourage interpersonal connections, and promote patient healing.

For nurse educators, understanding and implementing EI and soft skills are vital to educating the next generation of healthcare providers. Research shows that effective communication, particularly among patients, nurses and doctors, is key to improved safety and quality in healthcare facilities. Nursing soft skills and EI skills are vital components of student success in the classroom and clinical care.

“Soft skills provide a necessary complement to the knowledge and talent that employees bring to their jobs and ensure that the many individuals involved in a patient’s care are able to communicate and interact effectively,” Michael J. Dowling, president, and CEO of Northwell Health said in Becker’s Hospital Review.

For registered nurses (RNs) who are considering expanding their skills and asking themselves, “What can you do with a master’s in nursing?” understanding nursing soft skills and EI is all the more critical. By earning an online master’s in nursing, prospective nurse educators can explore the many ways soft skills impact lives.

The Emotional Intelligence and Soft Skills Connection

The term “emotional intelligence” was first coined in 1964 by clinical psychologist Michael Beldoch and popularized in 1994 by Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence — Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”

In his book, Goleman states that emotions are central to human intelligence and play a major role in decision-making, thoughts, and success. The National Soft Skills Association, which disseminates research on soft skills, said EI skills form the foundation for soft skills competencies.

As such, there are strong connections between EI attributes and life skills, including:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to understand your internal state, preferences, and intuitions to recognize how your emotions affect other people and your self-esteem.
  • Self-management (or self-regulation): The ability to regulate your internal conflicts and impulses for emotional self-control, optimism, and adaptability.
  • Social awareness: The awareness and active concern for other people’s emotions, needs, and feelings.
  • Relationship management: The ability to use your emotions to manage interactions and prompt desirable responses from others.

At the same time, author Heather Szeles, in “Developing emotional intelligence in student nurse leaders: a mixed methodology study,” says that nurses can only provide compassionate care if they can identify, manage, use and understand emotions in themselves and others.

“EI ability is not something that can be taught in a lecture class. It has to be developed through active listening, engagement, and participation,” she said.

Soft Skills in Nursing

American Nurse Today, the official journal of the American Nurses Association (ANA), said nurse leaders must foster soft skills to be effective. For nurses working in the education sector, soft skills influence top-down leadership teams, board members, students, parents, and the community. In a healthcare setting, soft skills impact the employee, employer, interdisciplinary teams, families, patients and communities.

The ANA, using the U.S. Department of Labor’s top six soft skills, demonstrated how soft skills correlate directly to nursing practice:

Soft skill: Communication

ANA application to nursing practice:

  • Providing safe and competent patient care
  • Obtaining important patient data
  • Developing patient care plans
  • Conveying vital patient hand-off information
  • Motivating staff for excellence in patient care
  • Relaying important information to nursing students

Soft skill: Enthusiasm/positive outlook

Application to nursing practice:

  • Improving patient and staff satisfaction
  • Creating an open environment that encourages improvements

Soft skill: Teamwork

Application to nursing practice:

  • Improving interdisciplinary patient care teams
  • Increasing efficiency
  • Expanding staff and patient satisfaction

Soft skill: Networking

Application to nursing practice:

  • support and enhanced professional connections

Soft skill: Problem-solving/critical thinking

Application to nursing practice:

Providing safe and competent care while handling patients with multiple chronic illnesses and fast-paced changes in the healthcare field

Soft skill: Professionalism

Application to nursing practice:

  • Upholding professional integrity
  • Maintaining professional licensure
  • Promoting public trust in the profession

In addition, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) defined specific skills as essential to creating and sustaining positive healthcare environments. The ANA said they align with soft skills in these ways:

AACN skills:                                                            Corresponding soft skill:

Skilled communication                                            Effective communication

Meaningful recognition                                           Enthusiasm and positive attitudes

True collaboration                                                    Teamwork and networking

Effective decision-making                                      Problem solving and critical thinking

Authentic leadership                                               Professionalism and integrity


Soft Skills for Nurse Educators

As educators, nurses must be prepared to teach soft skills through words, actions, and examples. While keeping hard skills (including pharmacology, care plans, and clinical rotations) at the forefront of education, educators must remember the importance of EI and soft skills.

Kimberly A. Hires, in Sigma Theta Tau International’s online journal Reflections on Nursing Leadership, said soft skills help nurses in all aspects of their career, from education to retention to self-care. Hires, a nursing leadership coach, said soft skills are paramount to improved patient management.

“It could be said that hard skills are what we do and soft skills are who we are, but if a nursing student or novice nurse lacks soft skills, they can be developed,” Hires said.

RNs who are considering a master’s in nursing to become a nurse educator must consider the concepts behind EI and nursing soft skills and how they relate to healthcare. The leading nursing schools, including Duquesne University’s School of Nursing, provide a broad-based educational experience that encompasses both hard and soft skills. Duquesne University’s online master’s in nursing provides opportunities to practice and use soft skills in the classroom and clinical settings.

About Duquesne University’s Online MSN in Nurse Education and Faculty Role Programs

Duquesne University’s online master’s in nursing programs prepare RNs for careers as nurse educators who will manage the rapid changes in the field. The university offers both an online MSN in Nursing Education and an . The coursework for both programs is presented entirely online and prepares graduates to sit for the Certification for Nurse Educators (CNE) exam.

The online programs are taught by advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who collectively have decades of experience. For more information, contact Duquesne University today.


Michael Dowling: To succeed, organizations must prioritize these 4 soft skills: Becker’s Hospital Review
Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US: The BMJ
Emotional Intelligence: Daniel Goleman
Developing emotional intelligence in student nurse leaders: a mixed methodology study: Asian-Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing
Soft Skills and Emotional Intelligence: National Soft Skills Association
Fostering soft skills is a must for nurse leaders: American Nurse Today
Five ways to help Millennials develop soft skills: Reflections on Nursing Leadership