Medical school is first to admit students on basis of ‘Emotional Intelligence’


By Tessa Hoffman

31 Jul 2018

A Queensland medical school says its become the first in the country to select students based on their emotional intelligence, rather than solely on academic achievements.

Bond University has accepted its first intake of medical students selected under a new system that invites applicants with an ATAR score of 96 or above to take part in an emotional intelligence test. The top 240 candidates are then invited to interview for one of the 120 full-feeing paying domestic places.

The new admission criteria represent a departure from the old system in which applicants needed an ATAR score of 99 to be considered for interview for a place in the Bachelor of Medical Studies at private university on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

The change means that some candidates with the highest academic skills do not make it into medical school because of their poor emotional intelligence score, according to Dean of Medicine Professor Kirsty Forrest.

“We are slightly concerned that medical programs are attracting people who think you only need academic intelligence to become a good doctor, and that is simply not true,” she says.

“The fact is you don’t need an academic score that high to be a good doctor.”

Professor Forrest says emotional intelligence is just as essential as academic ability for a career in medicine.

“You need to be able to work in a team, to change behaviour, and to display kindness, consideration and empathy,” she says.

The university’s 40 minute Emotional Intelligence test consists of 141 questions that score individuals based on how well they recognise, understand, and manage emotions in themselves and in others and how they use this information to guide their decisions.

A question might ask an applicant to indicate the importance of displaying certain emotions when giving feedback to peer or colleague, or show an image of a person’s face and ask the applicant to identify the emotions being expressed.

“There has often been a perception that medical professionals should display no emotion, and this is likely contributing to the higher instances of poor wellbeing and mental health issues in medical students and practising doctors,” notes Professor Forrest.

“There has been talk of how medical school ‘knocks the empathy out of students ‘and we are looking at the bigger picture of how to ensure that is not the case.

Professor Forrest says Bond University is also looking at changing the way it assesses students to put more focus on the learning process, to remove some of the  negative aspects of competitiveness.

“It is also about kindness. We believe that the competitiveness just to get into a medical program can result in students being very unkind to each other.

“The way they talk and deal with each other carries on to how they deal with other people, and if they are kinder to each other during their years of education – and kind to themselves – it will lead to them displaying compassion when they are in the workforce and dealing with patients.”

Other universities in Australia are already using the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT) in their selection process for medical degrees, and this test includes 44 questions designed to assess interpersonal skills.

But it is debatable whether the UMAT “is a pure measure of emotional intelligence as it does rely on cognitive skills to some extent”, says Professor Forrest, whereas the emotional intelligence test used by Bond “is a standardised and validated measure and assesses various domains of emotional intelligence”.

Bond University is planning an evaluation to measure if and how the Emotional Intelligence test has made a difference to medical student performance.


Sample question from the UMAT emotional intelligence component:

Read the following statement from Angus who has just had a heart attack and been admitted to hospital. Jenny and Pearl are his wife and daughter respectively. Then answer the questions below.

“It’s been two days since I was admitted into hospital. I was so dizzy and I just could barely focus with the pain shooting up my left arm. Sweat was dripping off my forehead as I grasped my chair for support. I could hear Pearl shrieking and Jenny frantically calling for an ambulance. Pearl and Jenny were sitting next to me. Usually Jenny took pride in looking immaculate but I could see her hair looking out of place and her clothes were uncharacteristically dishevelled. She had been making calls non-stop for the last two days to family, friends, work to tell them what happened and then calling them again to give them updates.

She had grasped my hand tightly but I could still feel it shaking. Pearl’s eyes were red and my heart clenched as I saw her trying to hold back from sniffling. Having fried bacon and eggs for breakfast, watching TV in all my spare time, treating myself throughout the day had cost a lot more than just money. They shouldn’t have to see me like this, in a hospital bed at 45. I looked at Jenny and Pearl, and I realised it was my fault that they were sitting here in this hospital today.”

QUESTION 1: What does seeing Jenny and Pearl make Angus feel?

a) Mortified and dismayed. b) Demeaned and overwhelmed. c) Penitent and chastened. d) Meek and degraded.

QUESTION 2: Why does Angus feel it is his fault that Jenny and Pearl are in this hospital?

a) He was the one who had the heart attack. b) It was his life choices that brought them here. c) As his wife and daughter they were obliged to come to the hospital. d) He had guilt tripped them into visiting.

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