Why emotional intelligence is compulsory for any nurse

I was suddenly forced to realise how little I have been required to ‘feel’. For me it is choice, for them, it is a reality.

We need to acknowledge the work that nurses do.

Could you emotionally and physically extend yourself every single day for a complete stranger? Could you be present in situations that are often the worst days in the lives of these people?

Through injury, death and recovery our nurses comfort and aid the patients themselves, and too, their families and friends. They do not try to feel the experiences of others, they just do. The choice to be a nurse comes with a great duty and even at times, a great burden.

The following stories, as told by four nurses are being shared because we must not forget the selflessness and importance of nurses in our society, but instead celebrate it- happy World Health Day, and thank you to nurses around the world.


It is a Wednesday. The weather is nice, there have been no accidents on the road and the traffic is flowing through Sydney. Trains running into the city are 10 minutes late and a feeling of irritation looms at the station among those waiting to begin another day. It is just an ordinary day.

On this same day, at 10pm, I sat down with four Sydney based nurses. For them it’s just an ordinary day, and tomorrow it would be considered nothing more than just ‘yesterday’.

Laura begins, “It was really hard when a resus (resuscitation) kid came in…”

On an ordinary, Wednesday afternoon in Sydney, a child was rushed to hospital needing resuscitation. The reality of her job really hits home. Though, it’s like she also understands how hard it is to access the ‘feeling’ of this experience because she continues,

“…the family has been having a really great day, and then something’s just happened, and it’s no one’s fault”, because it was an ordinary day for them too.

Definitely, “it makes it harder, because there’s no one you can blame”.

As humans we look for a cause for blame when forced to deal with the harrowing feelings of an experience, “You see the parents just breaking down and they don’t know what’s going on, and they can’t understand it. It’s hard. I haven’t quite learnt to deal with it.”

A challenge in her role is that she is not only aiding a paediatric patient and the doctor in the situation, but the parents of that child cling to her for emotional strength. They need to know that she understands the weight of their feelings. She continues, “It doesn’t matter what you say though, they can’t hear you, they are in shock.” Laura doesn’t believe that you can have a singularly clinical approach to nursing, “you need to be compassionate, it is their child; you need to show them you understand and will do everything to try relieve their child”. Isabelle agrees; she has worked in aged care and says that as a nurse your, “companionship, patience and care are as important to being a good nurse as your practice.”

For Isabelle, listening and learning about the experiences of her patients makes her a better nurse. When an elderly person can no longer care for their bodily fluids, she acknowledges that they feel embarrassed. She talks to me about the importance of respecting a patient’s inability, and how you need to ensure that you switch of any emotive cues indicating that you find the situation difficult, or even at times, disgusting. “A clinical approach is never enough,” you need to be highly attuned to the human elements of your work.

Laura speaks to other patients in the children’s hospital, the palliative ones. Her eyes look away as she thinks about the words to use describe it, it is obvious that she feels a duty to represent the patients and families in that ward in a respectful way. As she speaks I learn that there is some kind of honour in helping a patient, and because she has allowed herself to experience the trauma of the situation, it makes the quality of her clinical practice more important to her. When I ask if this is true she nods, “especially those long-term palliative ones through their final moments, and supporting them and their families in what is a forever life-changing event”.

For Jess, who works in a cardiovascular ward she understands too well the need for investing in a patient both emotionally and physically. On this ordinary Wednesday evening, she lost a patient. For her though, “in a way I was almost relieved because I had seen him sick for so long”. This is feeling that I cannot access as she speaks – I can’t know that feeling of relief, I have simply never experienced the reality of working with someone who will die.

Jess refers to an event that happened a few months back, the other extreme of the role, and an experience that she is yet to learn how to deal with emotionally. “I was on duty and had a patient who arrested in the shower and we had to do CPR on him; he was naked, on the floor of the ward with everyone around, and his ribs were breaking.” She was stunned, “I mean, I was just talking to him, and now he arrests and dies on the floor.”

Rosie interjects, her day was a tough one, and this story of unexpected tragedy hits close to home. A young colleague of hers was involved in an operation this morning when the patient experienced a brain aneurysm rupture. “The whole hospital was talking about it,” and for that young girl, “there would have been blood everywhere. It would have been horrible”. Different to the experiences I had heard this evening, her sorrow was for her colleague, “I don’t know how she would have dealt with it, I asked her, ‘Were you in the room?”, and when she said ‘yes’, I just thought to myself, how could she deal with it?”. The girl has been offered counselling she assures me, and her care in affirming this shows me that Rosie feels a huge duty toward other nurses. The sense of community is inspiring.


I’ve read stories and articles, watched dramas and cried through movies where I am reminded of the hardship of medical complications, and I am left encouraged with the acts of heroism of doctors and nurses – but I guess what I have realised is that in the end, I am left having learnt and felt, but not with knowing what it was like to be there.

Today, we need to celebrate the work of nurses.


Is nursing not what you quite expected, or exactly like you thought? Read one nurse’s incredibly honest account of nursing in, HANG ON, THIS ISN’T SCRUBS?


Why emotional intelligence is compulsory for any nurse
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