Soft Skills for Healthcare Professionals

Due to rampant changes in the practice of medicine, the landscape of healthcare has become increasingly complex The medical delivery challenges now faced by the medical profession include changing demographics, new procedures and technologies, patient empowerment, changes in national health policy, and changing professional roles.

These changes impact patient care and practitioner wellbeing. Healthcare leaders recognize these challenges and the need for continuing education to ensure that patients receive the highest quality care (Braithwaite, 2015).

Unfortunately, tensions arise as human capital is constrained and strained in the attempt to administer high quality care. For example, the number of primary care professionals is in decline (Dyess, et. al., 2016; Freel, 2012; Schwartz, 2012) while patient demand is on the rise (The U.S Department of Health and Human Services 2016).

Additional challenges include changes in the demographic landscapes of religion, minorities, age,
communication preferences, and other socio-economic indicators (Cohn & Cauldron, 2016; Perrin, 2015).
These challenges and complexities are the result of our increasingly diverse society.

The U.S Census Bureau reports that more than 350 languages are spoken in the United States (cited in Castillo, 2015) while the Institute of Medicine, advises us that ninety million adult Americans have limited health literacy (cited in NIH, 2016).

These challenges are further compounded by the fact that patient illnesses have become more acute and the work environment has become more technical, thus significantly impacting change and complexity within healthcare arenas (Williams-Buenzli, 2015).

The delivery of healthcare is changing as “technology—the internet, electronic medical records, even social media” transforms the delivery of healthcare (Phillips, 2015, p. 2). Some practitioners perceive the move from “practicing direct patient care to spending time behind the computer” to be one that transforms the “patient from a person into an icon or iPatient” (p. 2).

These shifts in the medical landscape further necessitate that healthcare employees work collaboratively to ensure the delivery of high quality care. This awareness has led many schools of medicine, public health, and other health professions “to define core competencies that are essential for success in the inter-professional healthcare context” (Guerin, 2014, p. 38).

While “hard skills” have always been emphasized, the increased call for collaboration to safeguard patient health is rooted in the need for healthcare employees to be proficient in “soft skills.”

Soft skills are defined here as the cluster of personality traits and behaviors combined with effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills that impact intra-personal and interpersonal relationships.

The cluster of soft skills also includes social graces such as personal habits, friendliness and optimism, characteristics related to feelings, emotions, job performance, and career prospects.

Soft skills are central to patient-centered care regardless of an employee’s position within healthcare. The significance of soft skills is found to be among the most frequent root causes of sentinel events. This is grounds for concern because the soft skills competency levels of many healthcare employees do not meet industry expectations.

The lack of soft skills competency is further compounded by the transitions faced in the wake of the Affordable Care Act and the increased use of information and communication systems in the delivery of health care. Therefore, it is imperative that all healthcare employees receive the necessary soft skills training to meet industry expectations.


So what are some examples of the soft skills healthcare professionals need?


  • Empathy – Empathy is perhaps the most important soft skill we can develop for better interpersonal interactions. In the healthcare industry you have to be able to empathize with the difficult conditions of patients in particular.
  • Professionalism – The word “professionalism” often conjures up images of a cold, distant, brusque person in a nondescript navy blue suit. In fact, many people have the sense that to be “professional” is exactly the opposite of demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence! However, professionalism is a key soft skill, and it doesn’t require you to be inauthentic, distant, or detached. Professionalism is simply the ability to conduct yourself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence.
  • Communication Skills – Being able to communicate well with patients and colleagues is vital. Communication is the most important for many people when asked about soft skills examples for healthcare professionals, because all other soft skills are built on the ability to communicate clearly and professionally.
  • Be a Team Player –  In most healthcare settings, you inevitably must work with others. Finding ways to build teams that accomplish what needs to be done in the most efficient and accurate manner is often challenging, especially when bringing together team members with diverse sets of hard and soft skills.
  • Dealing With Pressure & stress – Pressure is a daily part of many healthcare careers; you have to be able to handle it, and thrive on it. Positive and negative stress is a constant influence on all of our lives. The trick is to maximize the positive stress and to minimize the negative stress. Participants will be shown how stress can be positive and negative, and we’ll look at the Triple A approach that will form the basis of this workshop.
  • Strong Work Ethic – You will often have to go ‘above & beyond’ in the care and service of others – many healthcare careers are not social friendly roles. a strong work ethic helps you build strong relationships with team mates and superiors. A solid work ethic also helps you find reward in the work you do, and shows a dedication not just to goals and outcomes but to your overall professional development.
  • Positive Mental Attitude – Creating a positive attitude is one of the best things you can do for your productivity and your workplace happiness. People who have a consistently positive attitude are seen as approachable and can build more effective workplace relationships. A positive attitude also serves you well when you face challenges or setbacks – it breeds resilience.
  • Adaptability and Flexibility – Can you cover an extra shift? Can you stay late? Again, these aren’t 9-5 career fields. Two of the most important skills you can have are adaptability and  flexibility. Some people mistakenly think that the ability to change according to the needs of a situation or a willingness to compromise show weakness of a lack of conviction. In reality, the ability to compromise, change in response to changing situations and changing needs, and thrive  are key to success in the fast-pace workplaces most of us find ourselves in. Change can be scary, but learning to adapt and flex as needed is an investment worth making.
  • Time Management – Important in any career, but lives could literally depend on your timeliness. We all have the same number of hours in the day, so why is it that some people seem to get so much more done? The ability to effectively manage your time is key to productivity. You may not be able to create more time in your day, but applying time management skills can help you make the most of the time you do have!
  • Self-Confidence – Nobody wants to think they are being cared for by a novice, so you need to project self-confidence in your abilities no matter how experienced you actually are. Self-confidence plays an important role in our everyday lives. Being confident allows us to set and reach our goals. It provides stability when we are faced with a challenge; it gives us that push that helps us overcome difficulties. Self-confidence is necessary in our personal and professional lives, as without it one would not be successful in either. It gives us the ability to stand up to face our challenges and to pick ourselves up when we fall. Before going into details on how to boost self confidence, it is worthwhile understanding the fundamentals.
  • Dealing With Criticism – You don’t know everything, and in healthcare things are always changing. You need to have the ability to accept and learn from criticism. No one likes criticism, but the ability to learn from it is key to professional and personal development. Learning to accept and learn from criticism is a valuable investment in yourself. The ability to listen to and accept criticism is a key component of self-confidence. It also demonstrates that you value what others have to say, and helps develop a sense that you are committed to what you do and to your own growth.