Skills for healthcare workers

Top 12 Essential Soft Skills for Healthcare Professionals

When considering qualifications in healthcare professions, the first things that often come to mind are licenses, certifications, and other proof of competency in the field. But with the changing landscape of healthcare, soft skills are becoming more and more essential for healthcare professionals.

Healthcare professionals need a range of soft skills to interact with patients and colleagues effectively, not only to obtain a job but also to improve their job satisfaction. Communicating effectively, for example, can prevent or alleviate conflicts between coworkers or even healthcare professionals and their patients.

The truth is, though, that many of the essential soft skills required for the healthcare profession are not typically taught in school or during clinical experiences. That’s why it’s so important for healthcare professionals to develop and hone their soft skills continuously.

But what are soft skills, and which ones are essential for healthcare workers?


What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are the personal attributes and social intelligence that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. They’re often described as “people skills” or “interpersonal skills” and are unlike hard skills, which can be quantified and measured. That is, soft skills are more subjective.

In a fast-paced and emotionally-taxing environment, healthcare workers with strong soft skills can make all the difference for both patient and employee satisfaction scores. Everyone benefits.

The good news is that soft skills for the medical field can be learned and developed over time with practice. And with the right attitude and mindset, you can use your soft skills in the medical field to create a more positive work environment for yourself and those around you.


Healthcare worker with clipboard


How Important are Soft Skills for Medical Professionals?

In a field where the lives of others are being impacted every day, it’s crucial that healthcare workers know how to communicate and interact with patients and colleagues in a professional and personal way.

Below are the top 12 soft skills for healthcare professionals to improve not only your job performance but also your job satisfaction in the medical field:

  1. Resilience
  2. Empathy
  3. Flexibility
  4. Active listening
  5. Teamwork
  6. Clear communication
  7. Attention to detail
  8. Patience
  9. Time management
  10. Dedication
  11. Self-awareness  
  12. Leadership


1. Resilience

More and more, we are seeing the resilience of healthcare workers put to the test. From long hours and shift work to trying to maintain a sense of normalcy during a pandemic, resilience is the number one essential soft skill for all healthcare professionals.

Resilience is not about "grinning and bearing it," though. True resilience is knowing your limits, letting others know what you need, and taking action to prevent burnout.

Healthcare professionals are the most caring and passionate employees you will ever find. They will go out of their way, stay late, and come in early for their patients. But at some point, we all reach our breaking point.

As a healthcare professional, it is essential to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Self-care is the first step to patient care. If you are burnt out, exhausted, and drained, you won't have anything left to give to your patients and coworkers.

Practical tips for building resilience:

  • Build positive and supportive relationships with your coworkers
  • Practice gratitude by journaling three things you are grateful for each day
  • Prepare ahead of time for how you will handle stressful situations
  • Reframe negative thoughts into positive or neutral ones
  • Know when to say "no" (And know that it's okay to say "no" sometimes)

Use these tips to help you build resilience in your own life to avoid burnout and have a fulfilling healthcare career.


2. Empathy

Many healthcare professionals do not struggle with this soft skill at the beginning of their careers. After all, caring for others is likely what drew you to the field in the first place. However, it’s still important to be aware of how you show empathy to patients and their families.

Over time, a healthcare career can be emotionally demanding. You will see patients at their sickest and be with families during their darkest hours. While you may still have empathy on the inside, sometimes it does not come out as well as it used to.

That’s why finding ways to keep your empathy fresh is important. Like any soft skill, you will need to find a strategy that works best for you. Below are some tips to get you started.

Practical tips for refreshing your empathy:

  • Get involved with patient-resource or support groups to learn more about their experiences
  • Self-reflect on your non-verbal reactions in conversations with patients
  • Find one thing you have in common with each patient you work with
  • Mentor a new employee or student
  • Take a "staycation" to have some you-time
  • Join or start a support group for fellow healthcare professionals


3. Flexibility

In healthcare, things change rapidly and unexpectedly. A successful healthcare professional must be able to adapt to these changes quickly and efficiently. They must also be able to think on their feet and come up with solutions to problems that may arise.

Depending on your setting, changes may occur in patient needs, documentation requirements, productivity, reimbursement, or all of the above!

Staying flexible will also help you enjoy your job better. Change is never easy, but if you can learn to embrace it, you'll find that it can be exciting. Changes bring opportunities. And if you are constantly on the lookout for the next opportunity, change will come as a welcome challenge instead of a stressful burden.

Practical tips for staying flexible and embracing change:

  • Write a list of changes you see coming on the horizon
  • Be proactive in finding solutions to potential problems
  • Offer to assist others and ask for help when you need it
  • Communicate frequently and openly with your team
  • Try one new thing each week

Embracing the positive sides to every change will help propel your healthcare career forward and find peace through the turmoil.


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4. Active listening

We've all heard that there is a difference between hearing and listening. When actively listening, we're not just letting the words enter one ear and exit the other; we're engaging with the speaker, considering what they're saying, and responding in a way that lets them know we've heard them.

Active listening is key in healthcare because patients want to know that we've heard them and understand their concerns. It can be easy to get caught up in our own thoughts when a patient is describing their symptoms, but if we're not actively listening, we could miss important details.

Practical tips for developing and practicing active listening:

  • Repeat back a summary of what a patient tells you
  • Ask questions to clarify anything you're unsure about
  • Make eye contact and avoid distractions like your computer screen
  • Ask others to wait if they try to interrupt your conversation with a patient

Nothing is more valuable in healthcare than our time, and active listening shows patients that we're willing to give them our undivided attention.


5. Teamwork

Each healthcare profession has its own unique contribution to make to the delivery of patient care. But no matter your role, you’ll need to be a team player to succeed. You’ll need to be able to work well with others, communicate effectively, and maintain a positive attitude — even when conflict arises.

Without teamwork, patient care suffers. By learning how to work effectively as part of a team, you can help ensure that everyone involved is working towards the same goal: helping the patient. So, if you want to thrive in this field, hone your teamwork skills.

Practical tips for improving your teamwork skills:

  • Give feedback and ask others for constructive feedback
  • Practice saying "I'm sorry" and "I was wrong"
  • Look for compromise in conflict
  • Get to know your coworkers on a personal level

Remember, you can't do this alone. It takes a team to provide quality patient care.


6. Clear communication

In the healthcare field, you need to relay information to patients, families, and other members of the care team in a way that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Decisions are made and payment is awarded based on clear communication through documentation. This is how a doctor decides which medications would best address a patient's symptoms, how a physical or occupational therapist decides what precautions are needed, and how a nurse chooses what interventions to administer.

The importance of clear communication cannot be understated when it comes to patient safety and care.

Practical tips for improving communication skills:

  • Avoid jargon and acronyms whenever possible
  • Ask patients and coworkers to repeat important information back to you
  • Ask for feedback on your documentation

Ensuring adequate understanding can help avoid errors, improve patient satisfaction, and avoid conflict - making working in the healthcare field more enjoyable.


family with doctor


7. Attention to detail

Many errors in healthcare are made because of a lack of attention to detail. Even the slightest mistake can have significant consequences. That’s why healthcare professionals must be mindful of every task they perform, no matter how small.

If you are more of a big-picture person, attention to detail might not come naturally to you. But it’s a skill that can be learned with practice.

Practical tips for improving your attention to detail:

  • Break down tasks into smaller steps
  • Use checklists
  • Take your time
  • Double-check your work
  • Focus on one thing at a time

Taking the time to pay attention to the details may seem like a chore for some people. However, in healthcare, it can mean the difference between healing and hurting for a patient.


8. Patience

As a healthcare professional, you will often find yourself in situations where things are beyond your control. However, whether it’s waiting for test results, dealing with a difficult patient, or treating a chronic condition, it’s important to maintain your composure and remain patient.

Not only will this help you stay calm in difficult situations, but it will also show your patients that you care about their well-being and are invested in their care.

But patience is not everyone's strong suit. If you find yourself struggling to remain patient, there are a few things you can do to improve:

  • Take a few deep breathes when you start to get tense
  • Practice meditation or mindfulness
  • Distract yourself with other tasks

Have patience with yourself, too – remember that it takes time to develop this trait.


9. Time management

Time management skills are vital to ensure that everything gets done efficiently as you constantly juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities.

If you do not manage your time well, it can feel impossible to gettong everything done. This can lead to immense amounts of stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed, which can impact our first soft skill for healthcare professionals: resilience.

Practical tips for developing better time management:

  • Create a daily to-do list
  • Take breaks throughout the day
  • Learn to prioritize and say "no" when you need to

Managing your time will not only allow you to be more productive, but it will also help reduce your stress levels.


10. Dedication

You can see dedication in almost every healthcare worker. Otherwise, they would not be in this field.

The truth is that healthcare is a tough career. If you are going into healthcare or the medical field just for money or prestige, you will have a hard time making it through the long hours, stress, and heartache that come with the job. You must be dedicated to your patients and their care to be successful.

However, it is important not to let this dedication undermine your resilience. It is vital that you take time for yourself outside of work to avoid burnout.

Practical tips for keeping your dedication at a healthy level:

  • Pick a few hours you are able to spend each week, month, etc., to offer overtime or extra assistance to patients (and stick to it!)
  • Get involved with 1-2 community groups related to your patient population (but no more!)
  • Be honest with your patients that while you want to help, you only have so much to give (they will understand!)

Your dedication is what will make you an outstanding healthcare professional. Just be sure to take care of yourself, too!


11. Self-awareness 

Healthcare professionals spend so much time working for and attending to their patients that they can easily lose sight of themselves. It’s important to maintain a healthy sense of self to avoid burnout and continue providing compassionate care.

If you find that you’re struggling to cope with the demands of your job, seek out help from a supervisor or therapist. It’s also crucial to take time for yourself outside of work, whether that means taking a yoga class, spending time with friends and family, or reading your favorite book.

Practical tips for developing and maintaining self-awareness:

  • Check in with yourself on a daily or weekly basis - How are things really going?
  • Ask those you are close with for feedback - Have you seemed stressed, angry, or difficult this week?
  • Dig into your emotions and immediate responses - Where did they come from?
  • Keep a journal to reflect on - What happened today, and how did you respond to it?

Healthcare workers are as close to superheroes as we get in the real world. But it's unrealistic to expect yourself to be perfect or always to be able to save the day. Maintaining self-awareness will help you stay grounded and provide the best possible care for your patients. Remember - it's okay to be human.


12. Leadership

As a healthcare professional, you will naturally be in a leadership position. You will be leading your patients. You will be leading students. You will even be leading other healthcare professionals in your area of expertise.

And while you might not think of yourself as a leader, it's a role that you will have to play from time to time.

Leadership is an essential soft skill for healthcare professionals because it allows you to inspire others, motivate them, and get them to buy into your vision. It's also a skill that will come in handy when you need to make tough decisions, solve problems, and manage conflict.

But natural leadership skills may not be what got you interested in healthcare. You might not have ever thought of yourself as a leader. And that's okay.

Leadership is a soft skill that can be learned. And there are plenty of resources to help you develop your leadership skills, including books, workshops, and online courses.

Practical tips for developing leadership skills:

  • Take on small leadership roles within the healthcare field
  • Take a leadership course
  • Ask your supervisor for leadership training opportunities
  • Attend conferences and networking events

As a healthcare professional, leadership skills will not only help you lead your team and your patients. They will also help you further your career.


Final Thoughts on Soft Skills for Healthcare Professionals

Soft skills for healthcare professionals are essential in order to provide quality patient care. Interpersonal skills are key when it comes to working with patients, families, and other members of the healthcare team. Strong soft skills can help you build trust, communicate effectively, and provide quality care.

Not to mention how much more enjoyable your healthcare career will be!

When it comes to soft skills, it is important to remember that they are not always easy to learn or develop overnight. However, with time and practice, they can become second nature.

If you are interested in developing your soft skills or are looking for more ways to further your career development, check out the other articles in our Job Seeker Resource Center.

By Rachel Gartz Taylor, Guest Author | June 23, 2022
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