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"Emotional intelligence is key for positive and effective problem solving, interaction, professional growth, and change."

Becoming an emotionally intelligent clinical expert: are you deviating positively?

06/07/2015, 11:00pm EDT
By Lindsey Plass

I attended the Orthopaedic Section Conference this past May, and a quote by Dr. G. Kelley Fitzgerald resonated with me and got me thinking more about the importance of positivity and how it relates to change and self-reflection.  Not just having a positive outlook—but communicating positively, acting with positive intentions, and initiating positive change for your patients, your peers, and yourself.  Dr. G Kelley Fitzgerald described a “positive deviant” as “an individual/organization that is able to find better solutions for problems than their peers”.  Two great examples of positive deviants are Efosa Guobadia and Mark Shepherd, who are well known to PT Haven and physical therapists that I consider myself thankful to call my mentors.  If you know them, you know that they are the epitome of physical therapists with high emotional intelligence who are transforming patient care and the profession of physical therapy.


Emotional intelligence is key for positive and effective problem solving, interaction, professional growth, and change.  If you read Robert Wainner’s blog, you’ll recall that often times people are not aware that they have the ability to improve their social and emotional intelligence.1  But they can—and so can you!  My mentor Mark and I talk a lot about the 10,000 hour rule; the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.2  The 10,000 hour rule can apply to various components of physical therapy—from mastering manual techniques to mastering empathetic rapport building.  It also applies to mastering and improving emotional intelligence.  Feedback, motivation, and extended practice are required to improve emotional intelligence, which enables you to impart positive change on others as well as yourself. 


Here is where things come full circle.  In order to move forward down your path towards becoming a positive deviant, you have to seek out and accept 360 degrees of feedback all the while never losing enthusiasm.  A positive deviant stays motivated when times get tough.  As I reflect back on this past year of my Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Residency, I believe one of the most important, and hardest, things for a new professional is learning to perceive feedback in a way that always steers you down your path towards becoming a positive deviant.  It can be easy to lose sight and to fall into the trap of negative self-talk.  Often times new professionals may feel that they cannot be a positive deviant until they have more experience, until they know more, until they have better clinical reasoning---but it is important to live in the now.  Improving your                  self-awareness will result in heightened emotional intelligence and you will realize that it is just as powerful to reflect on the good things you do as it is reflecting on the things you can improve upon. 


As a new professional, it can be a struggle to avoid comparing yourself and your problem solving skills to those around you who you consider to be clinical-expert-positive-deviants.   A wise mentor told me—experts do the basics well.  I learned that a situation is as complex as you make it.  One must always remember that the journey of a physical therapist entails lifelong learning and the continued pursuit of excellence.  If you focus on keeping things simple and doing the basics well, the parts of your journey will fall into place to make it whole. 


What can you do today to make you better?  You won’t gain the experience of treating 100 of patients with cervical radiculopathy in one day, but if you have 1 patient with cervical radiculopathy on your schedule today, what can you focus on and learn from the session to make you better for the next 99 patients you treat? By focusing on improving day-by-day, session-by- session, you will find that every interaction you have with a patient, a mentor, a colleague---is an opportunity to exhibit positive deviance.


There are many paths towards excellence—and I encourage all new professionals to travel outside your comfort zones—as long as you deviate positively.



  1. Wainner R. The real secret for successful leadership: social and emotional intelligence. November 17, 2014. Accessed on May 20, 2015.


  1. Gladwell M. Outliers: the story of success. New York: Little Brown and Company; 2008.
Lindsey element view

Lindsey Plass

Lindsey is currently an Orthopedic Physical Therapist Resident in The Johns Hopkins Hospital and George Washington University Orthopedic Physical Therapy Residency.  Lindsey received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Northwestern University in 2012.  Lindsey worked at the University of Chicago Medicine for two years before moving to Baltimore in 2014 to begin the orthopedic residency.  Recently, Lindsey was selected to be a member of the Northwestern University Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences Alumni Association Board of Directors and received the 2015 Northwestern University Department of Physical Therapy Distinguished Young Alumnus Award. Her clinical and research interests include treating patients with running injuries, chronic and persistent pain, and femoroacetabular impingement/acetabular labral tears.  

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