Emotional Intelligence in Millennial Nurses

Oct 23

According to Forbes, being a global citizen is a major plank in the average millennial’s worldview. Millennials want to be socially aware, informed, and productive. This is called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify emotions in oneself as well as others. It aids in defining what it means for an individual to be an employee, leader, citizen, and yes, even a nurse.

With millenials making up ⅓ of the nursing workforce it is important for this generation of nurses to understand emotional intelligence. If emotions are not correctly identified a particular nursing intervention may be not only inappropriate but even harmful. Research shows that emotional intelligence is a key differentiator between exceptional performers and others. Data has shown that success can be 80%-90% attributed to emotional intelligence and only 10%-20% to cognitive intelligence. Nurses use emotional intelligence, subconsciously, daily.

A good nurse encompasses the five components of emotional intelligence:


Self-awareness is defined as the conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires. Not only must one be aware of his or her feelings, but he or she must be able to discover and understand the underlying cause of these feelings. We each view things from our own perspective. Being self-aware allows you to be strong in your values and beliefs, while processing that you work in a diverse culture and being able to understand your patients and coworkers viewpoints.


Can you control your emotions and behavior to produce a positive outcome? Self-regulation is the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses. In other words the ability to think before you act. Those who have perfected the art of self-regulation are often described as trustworthy, flexible, and open to change.


The general desire or willingness of someone to do something. In the case of nursing it is the passion to work for reasons beyond money or status. What is your reasoning behind choosing nursing as a career? When patients, physicians, family members, or teammates are challenging, do you still have the desire to make a change--what pushes that desire?

Studies show that motivated people are more adaptable, especially when it comes to change, and they have a positive attitude at work. This is especially important for millennial nurses. Millennial nurses are leaving the workforce at a fast pace. Gen Y nurses are more likely than other generations to consider seeking new employment.

With the millennial retention rate decreasing, being highly motivated is integral in keeping Gen Y nurses, at the bedside. With the rapid evolution of technology, advances in medicine, and patient acuity increasingly becoming higher, nurses must adapt quickly. Motivation is what will push us to continue on and feel more fulfilled.


Empathy is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. It is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In simpler terms, empathy is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. For nurses this means having the skill to treat patients according to their emotions. Nurses who have mastered empathy have a great ability to service and understand others. This doesn’t mean that we have to share those emotions with them, we just need to “get where they’re coming from." An empathetic nurse can understand and communicate with patients in a highly therapeutic manner.

Social skills

Social skills are the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other, both verbally and non-verbally, through gestures, body language, and appearance. Emotionally intelligent nurses are genuinely interested in others, and use social skills to build and manage relationships with their patients. This is key in building common ground and rapport with those whom we care for. Are you effectively managing and affecting your patients’ emotions? Have you ever smiled at someone and in return they smile back? This is an example of using social skills to influence situations.

Learning to manage conflict, communicating clearly, leading others as well as yourself, managing change, building relationships, and working as part of a team are valuable social skills for nurses.


Nurses are taught to be altruistic. Accepting negative emotions such as anger or disgust, with a patient, may be very difficult. By identifying, understanding, and incorporating emotional intelligence into your skillset negative emotions and feelings can be managed. Failure to do so can lead to serious consequences in patient care. Unidentified, unmanaged negative emotions, with patients, easily results in less frequent nursing rounds, late medications, and even less-than-gentle physical and emotional care.This not only jeopardizes patient safety, it also comprises the nurse to patient relationship.

About the author

Portia Wofford is a nurse, millennial strategist, writer, and rising social media influencer. Chosen as a brand ambassador or collaborative partner for various organizations, Wofford strives to empower nurses by offering nurses resources for career development — while providing organizations with tools to close generational gaps within their nursing staff. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.

Portia Wofford, Your Nurse Connection