Poor stress management skills can compromise performance in the operating room, particularly in inexperienced trainees. Little is known about individual differences in managing stress. This study aimed to explore the relationship between trait emotional intelligence (EI) and objective and subjective measures of stress in medical students faced with unfamiliar surgical tasks.Method
Seventeen medical undergraduates completed an unfamiliar laparoscopic task on a simulator during January to April 2008. Subjective stress before, during (retrospectively), and after the task was measured using the self-report State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Objective stress was measured using continuous heart rate (HR) monitoring. Participants also completed the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire short form (TEIQue-SF). The authors computed scores for global trait EI and the TEIQue-SF four factors and carried out descriptive and correlational analyses.Results
The highest levels of subjective stress were reported during the task and correlated positively with trait EI as well as with the trait EI factors of well-being and emotionality. Objective stress (mean HR) during the task was positively related to the sociability factor of trait EI. Higher trait EI scores were also associated with better after-task recovery from stress experienced during the task.Conclusions
Students with higher trait EI are more likely to experience stress during unfamiliar surgical scenarios but are also more likely to recover better compared with their lower-trait-EI peers. Trait EI has implications for the design of effective stress management training tailored to individual needs and potential applications to surgical trainee selection and development.