Alumni Spotlight Spring 2014

Eileen Rice (class of ’82) recently came back to Lienhard to present her research on emotional intelligence and nursing.

A recipient of the Alexander Gralnick Research Award, Professor Rice told a story about a nursing student who had excellent grades, but lacked other qualities – including emotional intelligence – necessary to be an effective nurse.  For example, she insisted on continuing to feed a patient who clearly did not want to take in any more food. 

According to Rice, “Nursing schools need to test for emotional intelligence before accepting students into their programs.  Sure it’s expensive, but it’s no more expensive than academic testing. It’s an investment. If we find low emotional intelligence is correlated with not graduating, it will save us a ton of money and it will save students aggravation because they will decide to pursue another path rather than spending their resources studying in a field that isn’t right for them.”

Rice believes that students should be screened for their communications skills, their ability to perceive and understand their patients’ emotional state, their ability to help their patients problem-solve emotionally charged issues, and more, to ensure they are clinically ready to be nurses.

The Gralnick Award provides funding (up to $5,000) for psychiatric and mental health nursing research and psychosocial research.  Applicants must be Lienhard School of Nursing full-time faculty, professional staff, students or alumni.

Nursing alumni can apply for the Gralnick award now.  To apply, contact the ALPS office at 914-773-3636.

Rice said the Gralnick award was “tremendously handy.”  She said, “As a nurse, you pay for your PhD out of pocket and hope the federal government will help through HRSA grants and state money.  After three and a half years of paying out money for a PhD, I had very little left.”

Rice didn’t always want to be a nurse, though she got experience from a young age. “I was a papergirl and visiting nurse. In junior and senior high school, I had a paper route and delivered papers to my elderly neighbors.  Sometimes I was the only person they saw all day. They would ask questions like ‘does this look infected to you?’ because no one else was checking on them.”

In her senior year of college, she wanted to be a veterinarian.  “In my final rotation, I realized animals can’t talk. I don’t know where they hurt.”  A biology major, Rice later completed a program for non-nurse college grads.

“It was wonderful to get my RN license and master’s at once.”

After graduating, Rice went on to become an ER nurse.

Her advice to current students? “Hospital experience is invaluable.  Get as much education as you can and put that aside and get the experience.  You can have tons of education, but your first day on the job, you’re all right there in the trenches.”

She also has advice for nursing schools, nurse educators, and medical schools: test students for emotional intelligence, and if someone has low emotional intelligence, steer them clear of fields where they need to have a good bedside manner.

“Good nurses – those with high emotional intelligence – know what to do when they walk into their patient’s room and he or she is fighting with a family member.  That’s a very stressful situation. The tendency is to want to leave the room and let the family fight it out, but nurses need to know how to diffuse the tension, calm everyone down, and teach the family and the patient what they need to know to take care of that patient. A great deal of emotional intelligence is needed.”