The Institute of Medicine stated already years ago that the “the need for leaders is too great to leave their emergence to chance”  and, therefore, public health organisations should actively engage in developing leaders at every level . A recent survey by the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER) asserts that European public health programmes lack modernity and do not provide adequate leadership education . Professional development of public health leaders requires a form of instruction which is competency-based to help them develop the abilities to address complex and evolving demands of health care systems. Although some specific public health programmes may not include leadership training, they can still contribute to the development of leadership qualities in their students and graduates based on the public health competencies taught in their curricula. Moreover, there is a strong movement to align the curriculum as an instrument of learning to achieve requisite competencies as a key educational goal . However, concerns have been raised about how to broaden leaders’ competencies, including emotional skills and intercultural communication competencies, in order to lead effectively in multinational organisations [5, 6]. Emotions are important for leadership and decision-making . Goleman, introducing emotional intelligence (EI), states that” without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he or she still will not make a great leader” . Moreover, leaders high in EI are the key to organisational success. Existing research also indicates that EI and intercultural consciousness have positive connotations that lead to effective cross-cultural leadership . EI refers specifically to the cooperative combination of intelligence and emotion that influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures .
The EI concept provides a psychometric framework for the intuitive and appealing idea that people differ in their ‘emotional skills’ and that these differences would be expected to relate to real-life outcomes such as career and relationship success . When existing leaders do not possess these competencies, management can either try to develop the individuals with high potential, or implement recruitment and selection criteria that enable companies to look for and admit leaders with such attributes.
One of the methods to improve a specific subject or field is the self-assessment. This method may be viewed as “the act of evaluating one’s own level of knowledge or performance taking into account the contexts in which it occurs” . Self-assessment of skills involves a high level of self-awareness and the ability to monitor one’s own learning and performance . Many European university programs in public health (PH) are based on competencies which are composites of individual attributes (i.e., knowledge, skills, and attitudinal or personal aspects) that represent context-bound productivity  which can allow for self-assessment of students contributing to identification of gaps in knowledge and subsequent adaptation of educational programmes.
Established in 2009, the Master of European Public Health (MEPH) programme delivered by Maastricht University (the Netherlands) is a programme based on competencies. It educates students to become all-round specialists in European Public Health capable of appreciating, analysing and comprehending the impact of European and transnational integration on public health, health systems and the changing role of citizens, clients and patients. The overall aim of the programme is to provide students with state-of-the-art knowledge, academic insights and entrepreneurial skills within a broad international and European perspective. The programme allows the students to reflect on their future professional roles based on the range of values, principles and evidence that inform European Public Health practice . Although leadership development has so far not been a part of the curriculum, the question arises whether we develop leaders who will be able to meet the complex challenges of contemporary public health.
In this context, our aim was to assess the relationship between the level of self-assessed public health and EI competencies among MEPH students and graduates at Maastricht University. We also aimed to determine the relationship between different groups of public health competencies, considered as important by public health employers for a successful integration on the labour market, and specific EI skills, like perceiving, using, understanding and managing emotions, and additionally assess potential age or sex differences among study participants.