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MGMA 2022: Emotional intelligence part of creating a thriving medical practice


Pay is important, but culture is crucial for recruiting and retaining staff.

Recognizing emotional intelligence is a way to strengthen a workplace that keeps physicians and other health care workers, and attracts new ones.

People, processes, and technology make up the foundation of a culture that inspires employees themselves to recruit new colleagues, said Katie Lawrence, principal of Willow Strategy Group. Lawrence presented “Stop the Revolving Door: Recruit and Retain High-Performing Employees,” as part of the 2022 Medical Practice Excellence Leaders Conference of the Medical Group Management Association.

In the health care workforce, the problem of turnover already is well known.

One in five health care workers left their job in the last two years and 1.7 million people quit their health care jobs in the first half of this year – 3% of the health care workforce a month. At this point in 2021, 31% of nurses who hadn’t quit, were planning to, Lawrence said.

“Each and every one of is us struggling to attract and retain staff,” Lawrence said. Health care workers often say they are leaving for more pay, but that’s not always true and they may be running towards new opportunities that feel exciting, she said.

Katie Lawrence

Katie Lawrence

Workplace leaders need to ask questions of themselves and their staff members to begin creating a strong culture in which employees thrive. Employees are people and people are emotional beings, so leaders have to understand emotional intelligence because they are surrounded by emotional people, Lawrence said.

“Everything you and I do and say and talk about is driven by our emotion, which before that is driven by our thoughts,” she said. Often leaders don’t think about those things and instead simply respond and react.

Emotional intelligence is monitoring emotions in yourself and others, to identify those emotions, then use that information to guide thinking and behavior, Lawrence said.

To begin integrating emotional intelligence in decision making:

  • Name it. Words are helpful to people to articulate what emotion they are feeling, and at what level.
  • Identify it in your body. This can be easier than naming the emotion because body sensations may happen physically before someone finds a word for it. “You may not recognize that you’re getting mad but maybe you feel your ears getting hot, right? You may not notice that you’re getting defensive but you can feel your chest start to tighten,” Lawrence said.
  • Notice it without judgment. Humans are great at judging everything, but emotions are not here to be called good, bad, helpful, or hurtful. Emotions are here to teach us something – find out what.
  • What does this emotion tell me is important to me? Sometimes anger may tell you a boundary has been crossed and something needs to change for yourself, for patients, for employees, or the way they are all interacting.
  • Is it telling me to do something? Or let it be? Emotions sometimes tell people to do things that are not socially appropriate – like yell at someone or have a nasty conversation with a colleague. Health care leaders should think about that and, if need be, get energy out in a safe space, then talk about the situation.
  • Has it already impacted my behavior? Do I need to make any changes? If any interactions had negative effects, Lawrence suggested talking to employees, making amends, or demonstrating why a behavior was inappropriate.

Moving through that process steps from self-awareness, identifying an issue, to self-management, or responding to it appropriately, Lawrence said. In this part of her presentation, Lawrence credited the work of Vancouver, British Columbia-based therapist and author Hillary L. McBride, PhD.

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