Many would argue that medicine is a prestigious career. A doctor is expected to treat, improve and save patient lives. But does this cookie-cutter definition really describe a “good” doctor?
There is no doubt that the medical profession is not for the faint-hearted. So, what sets apart this profession, and what differentiates the ‘good’ doctor from the “bad”? In this essay, I am hoping to explore this rather complex, intriguing question and analyze whether this perceived notion of a doctor, in reality, is ‘good’.
Medicine is an intellectually demanding career. After years of hard work at medical school, doctors are expected to apply their skills to patients with conditions of varying complexities. A doctor at times may not have a clear and immediate solution as exemplified by Covid-19.
The key here is the problem-solving aptitude, ability to cope with difficult & demanding situations by being resilient and empathetic to patient wellbeing. The Intelligence Quotient (IQ) that measures academic or cognitive intelligence may be too narrow to cover all the skills required, individuals with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) may achieve higher success. EQ refers to the person’s ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions.1 Evidence is emerging that EQ is as important for patient outcomes as it is for business and relationship success.2
Therefore, the perfect concoction of qualities of a good doctor is formulated by IQ and EQ – the Intelligence and Emotional Quotients.
So how does EQ contribute?
Emotional intelligence can best be described as the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour.3
In fact, in the UK much of this is evaluated as early as the application to medical school. Physicians work in both emotionally demanding and highly complex environments. A Loyola Medicine study4 demonstrates that an educational curriculum for physicians in training improves their emotional intelligence, which may help protect against burnout.
Key competencies of a good doctor:
Communication and Social Skills
Doctors need to first communicate to understand their patient’s issues and then effectively explain the diagnosis, using clear, simple language emptied of medical jargon. Physicians with high EQ have the ability to recognize, relate and influence a patient’s emotions to make them feel empowered and hopeful.
Relationships and Caring
It’s important to not view patients as a list of medical problems but as opportunities to build confidence and trust between patient and doctor. When patients are cared for and listened to, they are more likely to comply with medical recommendations and return for follow-up visits, leading to strong relationships and positive interactions with clinicians and health care administrators.
Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation
EQ can help prevent emotions affecting clinical decisions. This self-awareness can be critical in ensuring each patient is treated with respect & dignity and is provided the highest quality care, thereby covering two of the six core NHS values.5
Leadership and Teamwork – To be a physician is to lead6
In addition to clinical responsibilities, physicians serve as leaders and advocates and medicine involves leadership responsibilities at various levels i.e. individual, community, and societal levels.
EQ accounts for 67% of the abilities needed for leaders and mattered twice as much as IQ. 7 Besides leadership, teamwork is essential for best patient outcomes and high EQ individuals create better connected and motivated teams. A lack of EQ, a source of failure as a leader, results in being overly defensive, resolving conflict poorly, and not connecting well with your team.8
Despite the unfocused attention towards leadership, it can make an important difference in better clinical outcomes, experiences, increased empathy, and financial sustainability; not only this, but it also affects physician well-being. EQ and higher levels of leadership can help make physicians more resilient to the stresses of professional burnout and result in greater professional satisfaction. Overall, higher EQ increases both influence and change and helps physicians become the type of leader that others want to follow.
Conclusion: What is important – EQ or IQ?
Let us picture it: High IQ but can’t get along with others? Or high EQ but unable to make the correct diagnosis? Without the other, achieving success would be a huge struggle.
Instead of focusing on one aspect of intelligence, the greatest benefit may lie in learning to improve the less dominant one.
A successful doctor cannot have one but not the other. Instead of focusing on one aspect of intelligence, the greatest benefit will come from striving to learn the one lacking.
Doctors with EQ besides IQ demonstrate greater influence, deliver positive results and create leaders. In the future, new technologies based on Artificial Intelligence and surgical robots will enhance technical expertise, but not the ability to emulate emotions, making EQ more valuable than ever.
EQ can also be enhanced9 and IQ can be increased10, so what does this mean?
Multiple aspects of intelligence are all essential to the growth in the field of medicine. The perfect balance of the qualities which lie in both is what makes not only ‘good’, but a ‘great’ doctor.
Asmita Anand, Youth Medical Journal 2021
7Goleman, D. (1998). Working With Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY. Bantum Books