Emotional intelligence trumps IQ in dentist-patient relationship, CWRU study finds

IQ directly relates to how students perform on tests in the first two years of dental school. But emotional intelligence (EI) trumps IQ in how well dental students work with patients, researchers from Case Western Reserve University’s School of Dental Medicine and Weatherhead School of Management reported.

EI influences how well dental students recognize and manage their emotions and professional relationships, explained Kristin Victoroff, associate dean for education at the School of Dental Medicine, and Richard Boyatzis, the H.R. Horvitz Professor of Family Business, in the Journal of Dental Education article “What is the Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Dental School Clinical Performance?”

EI differs from IQ, which measures the ability to think and perform on tests. EI, also a form of intelligence, is the ability to read one’s moods and those of others, remain calm under pressure and be optimistic and adaptable to change.

“Emotional intelligence is distinct from traditional intelligence or IQ,” he said, adding that people need both to be successful. Boyatzis, a Distinguished University Professor and professor of organizational behavior, psychology and cognitive science, developed the EI management model and coauthored a book series on how to use it in business.

The study evolved from discussions by heath care educators about whether EI should be used in the admissions process or as a measure in clinical practice.

Boyatzis explained that other standardized admissions tests are equally incapable of predicting success in other fields, like medicine or management. “Such tests predict grades in courses but not effectiveness in professions. This is the first test of this relationship in dentistry, and one of the clearest studies of the dynamics,” he said.

Until now, no evidence was available to determine if EI had a connection to clinical education, said Victoroff.

The highly competitive admission process to dental school involves high scores on academic and perceptual ability tests. But that could change, as educators understand the important role of EI in patient care.

Educators questioned why some students who performed well in the classroom didn’t fare as well in the clinic. Researchers wondered if EI was a factor.

Students at Case Western Reserve dental school were among the first in dentistry to see if EI impacted clinical successes, as it does in corporate management.

The researchers recruited third- and fourth-year students, who receive clinical training under the guidance of two preceptors (part-time faculty who are practicing community dentists) who assess clinical performance.

One hundred of the 136 students from the two classes participated. Students and other individuals they work with were asked to complete a 72-item questionnaire from the Emotional Competence Inventory-University. EI competencies are grouped in four areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

Overall clinical performance was determined by averaging the preceptors’ assessments of a student’s overall clinical performance over several rating periods.

In determining a student’s overall clinical performance, preceptors consider such factors as diagnosis and treatment planning skills, work ethic and time utilization, preparation and organization, professionalism, patient management, knowledge and technical skills and ability to self-assess one’s work.

The analysis looked at the clinical grade and the EI assessment to see if there was a correlation between high EI scores and high clinical performance. The researchers ruled out the student’s year in school and gender in the analysis after finding those factors made no significant differences.

Their findings showed that a high EI related to excellent clinical performance. The researchers found EI skills in self-management were significant predictors of clinical grades. Self-management skills involve self-control, achievement orientation, initiative, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability and optimism.

They did not find a strong EI-clinical association to social and self-awareness.

EI scores for relationship management, which relates to the ability to influence others, were harder to determine due to the transient nature between the student dentist and patient during the two-year clinical training.

The researchers concluded that teaching EI competencies could better serve patients and help students succeed. They recommended future studies extend EI assessments to practicing dentists to determine EI’s impact in the professional setting.

1 Comment

  1. Les C

    05/21/2013

    Fascinating study and information. I am currently working with a CWRU graduate dental student in periodontics and may I applaud his exceptional clinical skills (which I might add, I expect from Case students as a baseline). What keeps me coming back are his extraordinary interpersonal skills, his empathy and optimism as we move forward with my treatment plan. I actually enjoy going to the dentist now!! The premise certainly makes sense to me.

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