Changes in medical students' emotional intelligence: An exploratory study

Terry D. Stratton, Justin A. Saunders, Carol L. Elam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Background: The ability to recognize and adapt to affective states in one's self and others, emotional intelligence is thought to connote effective, compassionate doctor-patient communication. Unfortunately, medical training has been shown to erode some of the very attributes it purports to instill in students. Purpose: The objective is to examine changes in students' emotional intelligence and empathy across an undergraduate medical curriculum. Methods: During M1 orientation and again following M3 clerkship training, students in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine Class of 2004 completed the Trait Meta-Mood Scale (TMMS) and Davis' Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Baseline changes in specific dimensions were examined for both male and female students. Results: Reliability of subscales was generally acceptable (α ≥.70). Sixty-four students provided data at both time points. Compared to baseline, two of three TMMS dimensions - attention to feelings and mood repair - were significantly (p ≤.05) lower at follow-up. One IRI dimension - empathic concern - was also significantly lower at Time 2, whereas another, Personal Distress, was significantly higher. However, differences generally reflected only small effect sizes. No significant gender interactions were noted. Conclusions: Despite quite modest effect sizes, findings suggest that students' abilities to effectively manage affective states may be subject to some minor fluctuation across the undergraduate educational continuum. However, whether these observed declines constitute meaningful, clinically relevant changes remains unclear.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-284
Number of pages6
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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