Aims: This article reports on a study which examined the predictive relationship between emotional intelligence and the following programme outcomes for student nurses: clinical practice performance; academic performance and retention. Background: In the context of concerns about a lack of compassionate care and amid calls for values-based selection procedures, emotional intelligence is emerging as a potential factor which might help the nursing profession to address some of these concerns. Design: The study employed a longitudinal survey. Methods: Student nurse applicants (n = 307) were asked to complete self-report scales to establish a total score and four subscores for emotional intelligence and these scores were matched to individual student's performance on the undergraduate programme. The scales were completed between June-September 2007 and performance data were collected up until January 2009. Results: A significant predictive relationship was found between emotional intelligence and all three programme outcomes: practice performance; academic performance and retention, after controlling for prior academic achievement, age and gender. There was a zero Pearson correlation between prior academic attainment and overall emotional intelligence, indicating that both predict different outcomes. Conclusions: Recruitment and selection procedures should consider emotional intelligence as a legitimate additional entrance criterion for student nurses and further research is required to examine the potential relationship between emotional intelligence and compassionate care.