Published in American Urological Association News - July 2017

Reprinted with permission from AUANews, volume 22, issue 7, 2017; © American Urological Association 2017.


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Why Surgeons should Build their Emotional IQ


Surgeons are smart. But what kind of “smart” are we? Too often, we focus on building academic intelligence. We zero-in on test-scores, professional distinctions, prestigious degrees, and, in the process, we forget about another kind of intelligence, "emotional intelligence," an intelligence that is critical to sustainable success. Don’t worry, this isn’t another feel-good, “get-in-touch-with-your-emotions” article. This is an article dedicated to the sharing of the real-life value of developed emotional intelligence.   

Passion for Performance Improvement

Why did you become a surgeon? What was the emotion behind that decision? Your emotional motivation is the key to overcoming frustration, exhaustion, stress, or negative emotions that keep us from reaching the heights of our professional potential. Identifying and understanding that emotional motivation is leverage to perform and improve—and positive emotions are the key to sustainable growth.

Role and Relationships

Yes, you’re a surgeon, but are you a parent? Spouse? Friend? Teacher? The roles and relationships we have in our lives come with their own unique emotional costs and benefits—anxiety, stress, overwhelm, joy, excitement, etc.

Learning how to identify when the costs become too great is essential. Any role or relationship, left unchecked, can become a leach in your life, taking and taking until you’ve got nothing left to give, and your practice suffers.


Obviously, attitude is a byproduct of emotion. Attitude dictates our state-of-mind when we walk into (or out of) the operating room. Emotional intelligence allows surgeons to more easily shift from sadness and gravity to happiness and gratitude and helps us convey hope as well as a caring and confident attitude that resonates with patients.


Ever heard the saying, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?” Tone, inflection, posture, eye-contact, and energy, are just a few of the many components that determine how effectively you communicate. And, like it or not, your emotional state weighs heavily on how you communicate. As a surgeon, having a high emotional IQ means you can recognize what you and others are feeling and keep emotions in-check, preventing them from contaminating your communication with peers, patients, family, and anyone else you encounter.


Emotional intelligence is time-sensitive, balancing the emotional needs of important relationships with your personal needs. You know those mornings where you can’t get going? Or those days when you look up from your desk only to realize it’s 8 pm and you haven’t eaten, exercised, or checked-in with spouse all day?  Emotionally intelligent surgeons aim for focus and quality over quantity.  

Inspire and Influence

So much of your success is tied to your ability to inspire and influence others. How can you inspire others if you are no longer inspired? How can you successfully influence if you can’t emotionally connect to the worries, fears, and emotional drivers of others?

Complex Problem Solving

Successful surgeons have trained to solve complex problems but that ability can be compromised by the taxing emotions that commonly accompany the problem-solving process. Emotions like frustration, anger, embarrassment, disappointment, self-doubt and hopelessness. Emotional intelligence comes from small successes and knowing that failure breeds resilience, determination and useful knowledge.


It’s hard to be a great surgeon, stay healthy and lead a sustainable career if you’re running low on energy. Nothing saps energy as quickly as negative emotions. Emotional recharge and recovery restores calm, hope, joy and confidence.

When positive emotions prevail in your life, growing and maintaining a successful surgical practice is much simpler.