Nursing and pharmacy students’ use of emotionally intelligent behaviours to manage challenging interpersonal situations with staff during clinical placement: A qualitative study

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Abstract

Aims and objectives

To identify challenging interpersonal interactions experienced by nursing and pharmacy students during clinical placement, and strategies used to manage those situations.

Background

Healthcare students and staff experience elevated stress when exposed to dynamic clinical environments, complex care and challenging professional relationships. Emotionally intelligent behaviours are associated with appropriate recognition and management of emotions evoked by stressful experiences and development of effective relationships. Nursing and pharmacy students’ use of emotionally intelligent behaviours to manage challenging interpersonal situations is not well known.

Design

A qualitative design, using semi-structured interviews to explore experiences of challenging interpersonal situations during clinical placement (Phase two of a larger mixed-methods study). Final-year Australian university nursing and pharmacy students (n = 20) were purposefully recruited using a range of Emotional Intelligence scores (derived in Phase one), measured using the GENOS Emotional intelligence Inventory (concise version).

Results

Challenging interpersonal situations involving student–staff and intrastaff conflict, discourteous behaviour and criticism occurred during clinical placement. Students used personal and relational strategies, incorporating emotionally intelligent behaviours, to manage these encounters. Strategies included reflecting and reframing, being calm, controlling discomfort and expressing emotions appropriately.

Conclusions

Emotionally intelligent behaviours are effective to manage stressful interpersonal interactions. Methods for strengthening these behaviours should be integrated into education of nursing and pharmacy students and qualified professionals. Education within the clinical/workplace environment can incorporate key interpersonal skills of collaboration, social interaction and reflection, while also attending to sociocultural contexts of the healthcare setting.

Relevance to clinical practice

Students and staff are frequently exposed to stressful clinical environments and challenging interpersonal encounters within healthcare settings. Use of emotionally intelligent behaviours to recognise and effectively manage these encounters may contribute to greater stress tolerance and enhanced professional relationships. Nursing and pharmacy students, and their qualified counterparts, need to be educated to strengthen their emotional intelligence skills.

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