What are the most important skills a physician can possess? Patients and fellow healthcare professionals would likely rank a doctor’s knowledge of medicine and their ability to complete complex procedures as most critical to their success. But what about interpersonal communication skills, compassion and civility? Although you may not consider these strengths essential for saving lives, soft skills have a greater impact on patient outcomes than you might expect.
Here’s why further developing these attributes can make you a better doctor, and several soft skills every physician should hone.
Why are Soft Skills Important for Physicians?
No one would argue a doctor with a pleasant bedside manner is likely to earn higher patient satisfaction scores. However, physicians with well-developed soft skills tend to form better relationships with patients and care teams, which can improve the flow of information and foster better outcomes.
But medical school focuses almost entirely on clinical science and technical solutions with little-to-no time spent on the collaboration and leadership skills you might learn in business school.
“Our education, which leans toward quantitative skills, leads us to approach problems with a bias toward a technical solution,” says physician and executive coach, Dr. Margaret Cary, in an article for MD Magazine. “That can be a big problem in a clinical setting.”
Dr. Cary points out that this bias, combined with poor communication skills, is not only inefficient but can lead to serious (and even deadly) medical errors.
Luckily, you can build up your soft skills through practice, mentoring or online training.
4 Soft Skills Every Doctor Needs
Here are four essential soft skills physicians should focus on building to make the most significant impact on their patients and the workplace environment.
As a physician, you’re responsible for leading care teams or, in some cases, an entire department or practice. To achieve the best results, it’s essential you’re able to give your team members the support and motivation they need to excel. This means taking a more democratic, coaching approach to leadership by fostering discussion and welcoming feedback — rather than acting like an autocratic authoritarian who barks orders and ignores others’ input.
From engaging in active listening with patients and colleagues to taking clear notes and providing straightforward directives, communication is vital to clinical success. It’s also important to stay aware of body language, too. When interacting with others, always make eye contact and do your best not to fidget or do anything that might indicate you’re not providing your full, undivided attention to whoever is speaking.
Having the capacity to understand what others are feeling or experiencing is critical in the medical profession. However, while you may have empathy toward your colleagues, patients and patients’ families, you might not always demonstrate it well — especially when you’re busy or hyper-focused. But taking the time to listen to others’ concerns and validating their perspective can go a long way toward earning patient trust and developing better working relationships.
As a physician, you’re often expected to have all the answers and when you don’t, you may feel like you’re failing. However, having the self-awareness to admit when you’ve made a mistake or are unsure about something is much better than moving forward when you might be wrong. Not only will this lead to better outcomes for your patients, but it will help others respect you more, too.
As a doctor, you face numerous challenges and in some cases, medical knowledge and technical skills aren’t always enough to achieve success. By improving essential soft skills, you can increase your effectiveness and help drive better results from your team and the patients you serve.