May 11, 2023By Erin Carn Bennett

How to Infuse Emotional Intelligence Into A Clinical Simulation Program

Healthcare simulation educators are in a powerful position to influence change on important subjects that improve patient clinical care through the utilization of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is not a skill humans are born with but it can be learnt. However, emotional intelligence is not routinely taught to health professionals formally during training. As the spotlight is on other adjacent topics such as psychological safety in clinical simulation it is worth more consideration on emotional intelligence within clinical simulation. This article by Erin Carn-Bennet will explore tangible emotional intelligence skills to infuse into learning objectives for clinical simulation based education sessions.

If healthcare simulation staff operate a psychologically safe program they are often viewed as a safe space to explore and reflect on individual and team practices. As emotional intelligence is not routinely taught in the undergraduate setting to healthcare professionals, clinical simulation courses are an ideal environment to infuse and explore these essential skills.

Many complaints occur within the healthcare system and the patient care provided related to communication issues. Clinical simulation scenarios across topics and curriculum have the opportunity to practice and debrief communication and emotional intelligence strategies for clinicians safely. Staff from clinical simulation programs have an array of skills in many areas to include emotional intelligence, psychological safety and communication. For many healthcare simulation staff the reason for choosing the vocation of healthcare simulation is to enable clinical staff to practice and improve patient care.

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Many assumptions can be made as to whether clinicians in clinical areas have emotional intelligence elements such as self awareness, self regulation, motivation and social skills (Goleman, 1995). Work at the bedside is incredibly emotionally taxing on clinical staff. Burn out rates are at an all time high for healthcare staff. Retention of healthcare staff and to improve their wellbeing is vital to improve the international workforce in the future. In order to build an emotionally intelligent health workforce, the clinical staff must be allowed time to practice, reflect, and grow the skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and social skills. Clinical simulation provides an excellent opportunity to practice and refine these skills.

All clinical staff at some point in their career will encounter either aggressive or distressed family members; emotional intelligence is an essential skill to ensure department safety when this occurs. However for most junior clinical staff there is a reliance on support from more experienced staff to assist with these issues as they appear in real time. Learning occurs via practical experience with how to manage difficult patients and families situations over time. With time and wisdom some clinical staff will come to realize that aggression comes from an unmet need expressed. However for many, this learning may not occur which is a missed opportunity in the reduction of aggression and distress in the workplace.

The incorporation of standardized participants or faculty to portray the role of family members in clinical scenarios provides a great opportunity for clinical simulation participants to practice emotional intelligence elements such as empathy, listening and social skills.

Other emotional intelligence skills that can be honed through clinical simulation and then debriefed include self awareness and self motivation. Debrief can allow clinical simulation participants to come to a place of self awareness through reflection on their actions.

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People with high emotional intelligence naturally reflect on their part played in any given situation through self awareness practice. Having crucial conversations doesn’t come naturally to many people. Clinical simulation is a perfect environment for participants to explore and develop this skill to translate learning into an alteration of their clinical based emotional intelligence skills.

Adjacent industries such as psychology and psychological safety professionals may be able to share resources and expertise on emotional intelligence if your clinical simulation faculty requires additional training. Healthcare simulation staff are incredibly skilled educators but sometimes require subject matter experts and opinions to make alterations to their program.

Collaboration of highly skilled faculty and clinical simulation workforce is critical for a successful healthcare simulation program. Consideration to train faculty as required in emotional intelligence skills should be a priority before the incorporation of emotional intelligence into a healthcare simulation program. Prioritization of the importance of progressing clinical simulation staff through education for their own development should not be undervalued.

Emotional intelligence also dovetails into psychological safety which is a current hot topic for healthcare organization’s broadly as well as within clinical simulation programs. One must ensure their clinical simulation team and training program is psychologically safe is vital to the success and growth of the program. A psychological safe program also assists with retention of participants’ willingness to return to future clinical simulation courses. Psychological safety ensures that people feel safe and able to openly share and contribute without fear of judgment or criticism.

Considering if a clinical simulation program is psychologically safe may appear at first an onerous task. The first step is to pause, reflect and consider. For the most part clinical simulationists are interested in improving, adapting and changing. As an individual or team it may seem like an onerous task to display psychological safety if beyond your program these same principles don’t apply in the institution you work in.

However, do not underestimate the power of being a role model and the impact that this may translate back into other areas to improve patient care. Part of emotional intelligence is self awareness that controlling others behavior is not possible. However, one can influence change by modeling emotional intelligence that translates into a ripple effect for individuals to follow. Change can happen by two ways: manipulation or inspiration (Sinek, 2011).

Healthcare simulation educators are usually more prone to educate through inspiration due to the nature of the work performed most days. Ensuring clinical simulation participants feel safe and able to be vulnerable is a key skill honed by many in the field. Emotional intelligence has been discussed for many years as an important skill for all to learn. Consideration of how healthcare simulation can provide an incubator for the emotional intelligence concept to develop further is worth some deeper thought.

Read More About Emotional Intelligence in Clinical Simulation


  • Brown, B., 2015. Rising Strong, United Kingdom: Vermilion
  • Goleman, D., 1995. Emotional Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books
  • Sinek, S., 2011. Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action, London: Penguin Books Ltd

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