How Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Decide Whether to Go for Your BSN

Are you on the fence about going back to school or not?  Maybe you have a list of pros and cons going on in your head or like some nurses, even have one on paper. Maybe you are worried about the time and money involved in going back to school or are afraid that you might not be successful. On the other hand, maybe you wonder if the best time to go for your BSN is right now, even with nagging questions in the back of your mind.  And maybe, not deciding, i.e. sitting on the fence is the most comfortable place for you.  Here you can keep the option open while not making a commitment either way.

How can emotional intelligence help your decision-making?

Daniel Goleman is the psychologist well-known for bringing the term emotional intelligence EI into mainstream culture with his ground-breaking book, Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More than IQ.  His model, which continues to evolve, involves personal and social competencies, each of which include a variety of traits that can be helpful in decision-making.  For instance, we can take a deeper dive into the concept of personal competence in an effort to decide about going back to school.

Personal Competence and the School Decision

There are three areas of personal competence; self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation.  

Self-awareness means that you know how you feel at any given moment and have a sense about both present and past causes of your feelings.  Try sitting quietly for a few moments and ask yourself what feelings you have about going back to school and not going back to school.  Don’t try to change or judge what you are feeling just notice.  

Once you have a sense on what you are feeling you can be curious about where the feelings are coming from.  Are there old messages that encourage or discourage you from taking a risk?   This may be trickier than it seems because sometimes what we feel about a current decision may have more to do with past experiences than anything else.  We may fear failure or even success and the fears are keeping us on the fence. The more you are aware of your feelings, the more you use them to guide your decision. Even if you have strong fears that are keeping you from taking action, now you’ll have a sense about what those fears are and use the awareness to take steps to separate the past from the present and the ‘shoulds’ from the ‘coulds’.  

Self-regulation refers to our ability to manage our feelings and how we respond to various situations.  If we are having trouble making a decision, there is a chance that our fears are paralyzing.  There may be very good reason for going or not going to school right now and either decision could be best.  Yet, if old voices or fears are dictating inaction, that could be a red flag that your self-regulation is hung up on the past and you might miss an opportunity to grow your career.  The truth is, if you made it through an Associate Degree or Diploma program, you are one smart dude.  With support and encouragement, a BSN could open up many doors for you in your nursing career.  However, honoring fears about time and money may give you a sense of relief in knowing this isn’t the best time to go back to school.  A psychotherapist or nurse career coach could be very helpful in discerning your next best steps and then taking action.

Motivation is the driving force behind our behavior and absolutely essential for successful return to school. This is the part of EI that speaks to your needs and desires.  So often nurses are grounded in meeting needs of patients and families.  Even meeting the needs and desires of your own family may take precedence over your own.  While sometimes this makes perfect sense such as with your children or at times with your life partner.  But, if you are not getting your needs and desires attended to also, this can lead to burnout or even the kind of apathy that contributes to errors. If the idea of going back to school is an exciting one to you, then there is a good chance you have the motivation for you need to be successful.  This will be extremely important in participating in career development of any sort.  If you can make the connection between your desire and an action step, you’ll be using your emotional intelligence in a healthy way.


Going back to school is a big decision and the more you understand your feelings, responses and desires, the more you’ll be able to move forward in the best direction for you at this time.  Keep in mind that lifelong learning is a given in nursing regardless of your degree and try to stay open to all ways of learning and growing.  


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This Simple Activity from Medical Improv Can be Used to Develop Empathy

Daniel Goleman, the psychologist well-known for bringing the term emotional intelligence into mainstream culture with his ground-breaking book, Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More than IQ describes empathy as an important component of social competence. In a more recent article, he describes empathy as a component of effective leadership stating the importance of understanding others’ feelings and points of view.  

Empathy and relationships

Ultimately, empathy is important for building healthy relationships of all kinds, including professional ones with colleagues and therapeutic ones with patients.  It is closely tied to attentive listening where the focus is on the other person.   

Remember only 10-20% of our communication is attributed to the actual words we exchange!  

An empathic person is taking in all sorts of the other 80-90% of information in any given relationship. A nurse with a high degree of empathy has an invisible radar that interprets facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.  She may be the one on the unit who notes the early signs of a patient’s escalating anger or a colleague’s signs of irritability.  This nurse can be a real asset to the team because he may help prevent a workplace violence incident or get help for a peer who is developing burnout.  

Nurses vary with their ability to start an IV in an elderly dehydrated patient or accurately assess subtle lung sounds before a fluid overload crisis, right? We also vary in our ability to show and feel empathy.   That’s Okay because just like practicing clinical skills, empathy can be developed too!

Many exercises come from the emerging field of Medical Improv where theater activities are used to build emotional intelligence and communication skills. For instance, one activity involves synchronized storytelling aka same-time-story, where two people try to tell the same story at the same time.

How to play synchronized storytelling

This activity requires working in pairs, where one person tells a story while the other acts as a mirror and tries to tell it at the same time. So if I say, ‘Once upon a time,’ the idea is that my partner is going to say that at the same time that I am. It’s a little slow at first, and what happens is the person following the storyteller becomes intently focused on that person. Because the activity requires almost 100% attention on another person in a safe and fun way, there is a natural opportunity to develop empathy.  

If you decide to try it with a colleague, make sure you both have a chance to play both roles and notice:

  • Whether you are thinking of anything besides the person telling the story.
  • What hints you get from the storyteller that don’t involve words.
  • How the activity impacts your relationship with your partner.
  • What is easy and comfortable for you versus what is unfamiliar.

You can see how it is done in the brief video below with improv students, Glenna Kimball and Jody Fuller at the PILL-Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab!


While this activity and these concepts may seem outside the scope of clinical communication, they open the door to developing awareness and skills associated with empathy.  They also create opportunities to discuss the value of the skillset and when and where it can help in your work as a nurse.  


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How to Balance Night Shift Nursing with a Family

By Aaron Alstrom

Hospital jobs are generally some of the most lucrative and prevalent jobs available for nurses. Unfortunately, these positions tend to come with less appealing side-effects like grueling 12-hour shifts and night, weekend, and holiday requirements. This can be a major dissatisfier for new grads who are forced into night shifts to pay their dues.  For some, though, these off-shifts translate to lower child care costs, higher pay, and other perks. Striking a desirable work-life balance can be a struggle but, once found, it will ensure a fulfilling career and a happy family. Read on for tips on how to balance night-shift nursing with raising a family.

The importance of sleep to night shift nursing

Any nurse who works the night shift understands the daytime nap is a vital yet elusive commodity. Without a proper night’s rest, you can’t be fully present for your family or your patients. The chronic lack of sleep associated with shift work impairs judgement, increases the risk for errors and mistakes, and is detrimental to your health. So what’s the fix? You could try to increase the number of hours you get to spend in bed, obviously. However, if that’s not possible, consider maximizing your time in bed. When driving home in the morning, be sure to wear sunglasses to minimize your exposure to UV light which drives down melatonin production. Melatonin, which is an endogenous hormone that promotes sleep, is also decreased by the blue light that comes from computers, smartphones, etc. Try to stay off the computer when you get home and switch on the blue light filter on your smartphone as you’re getting ready for bed. Put up blackout curtains in your bedroom and switch on a fan for white noise. There are a myriad of sleep aids that can be found over-the-counter. If you need something stronger, speak with your primary care provider for a prescription sleep medication. Your sleep is important to your well-being, your career, and your family; take the necessary steps to optimize the hours you do get to sleep.

Be intentional in your time spent with significant other and kids

Nursing is a rewarding and fulfilling career. However, it isn’t the only thing in life and it’s crucial to balance your career with the other important things in life like family, friends, and health. When you work the night shift, it’s so easy to emerge at the end of the work week and realize another week has flown off the calendar without any truly meaningful memories being made. At the beginning of the week, sit down with your significant other to discuss the family schedule and pin down times during the week to be together as a couple and as a family. Meet for lunch on your day off while the kids are at school. Have breakfast as a family before laying down for a nap after your shift. Plan low-impact family nights or dates like having pizza delivered and watching a movie on the couch. Go for a quick walk around the neighborhood before or after your shift and reconnect. It’s also vital to schedule time for yourself; you can’t give your all to your patients and your family if your cup is empty. Participating in a little self care like going to the gym, getting a manicure, or simply drinking your coffee in peace and quiet benefits everyone in your life, not just you.

Checking off your to-do list as a night shift nurse

On top of working three 12+ hour shifts, caring for your children, and being present for your significant other, your to-do list is probably a mile long. Bills to pay, groceries to buy, bathrooms to clean; it never ends. Consider automating as much of your to-do list as possible. Certain popular online shopping websites have various services with household supplies and groceries that can be delivered to your door. If you work three 12-hour shifts in a row and realize on the first day you’re almost out of toothpaste, many stores and websites offer 2-day shipping. You can knock out all the household supplies and non-perishables on your list, frequently for cheaper than if you went to the store. Additionally, a common trend on shopping websites is a subscription feature. You can set your cat litter, dog food, toilet paper, and other essentials to automatically be shipped to you at predetermined intervals.This service usually comes with a discounted price. This is a win-win since you can save money and the energy and brainpower of making sure you purchase these items each month.

With days passing in spurts when you work nights, it can be tricky to keep track of bill due dates and payments. Consider automating your bill pay and using online bill pay. It’s quicker and easier than snail mail; just click a few buttons and that task is crossed off your list!  It’s not always financially possible, but consider hiring someone to come clean your house every other week. If your list of chores is mounting and you are having trouble finding a balance between work, spending time with your family, and managing the household, a hundred dollars every other week may be a worthwhile expense to keep the dust at bay while stealing back a few extra hours (or more) to spend with your SO or children.

Night shift nursing can be a real challenge; it takes a special person to stay up all night caring for patients while raising a family. Be patient with yourself, your S/O, and your children while you find routines and tricks that work for you and your family. With time, you may just find that working the night shift allows you to find the work-life balance for which you’ve been searching.

“Aaron Alstrom


Healthcare Pros, Inc. – Cypress, CA

Website: HealthCare Pros is a Nurse staffing and management company with 25 years of industry-specific knowledge, experience, and care. We pride ourselves on delivering exceptional service and producing positive results for our clients.”

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