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Doctors and professionals in healthcare are often encouraged to focus on hard skills or the technical skills that are directly related to their job. However, a key factor in the success of a doctor is actually the 'soft skills'.

This is an edited version of a story published on Dr. Bill.

Soft skills are qualities, habits, and attitudes that make someone a well-rounded professional. When it comes to healthcare, there are certain soft skills for doctors that help them better serve their patients and can often make an awkward and uncomfortable situation easier.

At the end of the day, it boils down to people and relationships. It doesn’t matter how skilled or smart you are as a doctor; if you cannot establish a good rapport with the people you work and interact with on a daily basis, patient care is going to be compromised. Patients are also much more loyal to a doctor who they feel listens to them and cares.

10 Important Soft Skills for Doctor:

1. Leadership

As a doctor, you’ll be leading care teams, a department, or even an entire practice of your own. To ensure everyone is giving their best, it’s important that you’re able to give your team members the support and motivation they need to thrive. This implies taking a more democratic and coaching approach to leadership that encourages discussions and feedback, whether you’re working with nurses or other medical staff, the more you involve your team members, the more they’ll feel like a part of your team.

2. Clear Communication

Communication is at the core of all workplaces, however, it’s an extremely important soft skill for doctors. Physicians need to be able to effectively communicate with their patients and families and explain the situation to them in a way that they can understand. It’s important for your patient to decipher their diagnosis and the necessary steps for the treatment. The capacity for your patients to follow-through with your medical recommendations depends heavily on how well it’s communicated to them.

Be mindful of your body language. When interacting with others–be it patients or your team members, make eye contact with them and try not to fidget or look into your phone or do anything that may make them feel like you’re not giving them your undivided attention.

3. Empathy

Empathy is one of the key components of emotional intelligence. Having the ability to understand what others are feeling is one of the critical soft skills for doctors. It’s not only important to feel empathetic towards your colleagues or your patients and their families, it’s equally important to communicate it. Taking the time to listen to people’s concerns and validating their perspective can go a long way in earning their trust and developing a long-term relationship.

Developing this relationship will help your patients trust you more, as well as your advice and care plans. Irrespective of how busy you are, it’s important to take out time and listen to the people around you.

4. Stress Management

As a doctor, you’re dealing with people’s lives. That’s a lot of pressure to handle. Therefore, knowing how to manage stress is important to avoid burnout and focus on good patient care. Some of the most successful doctors don’t only know how to manage pressure, but they thrive on it. However, they are also cognizant of when to hit pause and take a break when things get too stressful. Taking care of your own health is the first step to taking care of other’s health. Here are a few things that you can do:

  • Accept that there are things that are not in your control
  • Exercise regularly and eat well
  • Get enough sleep and seek social support when you need it
  • Find ways to manage your time effectively


Read related story: Preventing Professional Burnout: Tips for Doctors

5. Strong Work Ethic

Your work ethic is a set of values that you follow no matter what the circumstances. These include punctuality, professionalism, positive attitude, time management, and more. Healthcare is a demanding field. The hours are long and no two days are the same. Therefore, a strong work ethic can go a long way in setting the expectations right and nurturing the future of your team and the care that you provide. Your work ethic also encourages you to find the drive to succeed, without which your career can stagnate.

6. Humility

As a doctor, you’re often expected to know all the answers and when you don’t, it may feel like you’re not good enough. However, having the self-awareness to admit when you don’t know something or when you’ve made a mistake is a much better approach than moving forward unsure. Not only will this lead to better outcomes but it’ll also help build trust in your patients and your team.

7. Excellent Attention To Detail

While being attentive about details is important in all professions, it’s arguably more important in healthcare where people’s lives are on the line. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who manage the dose of medications and other measurements cannot make a mistake. They have to pay close attention to details for the well-being of their patients. This soft skill becomes a lot more critical in fast-paced situations such as in the emergency room where constant activities and distractions can make it difficult to focus at the task at hand.

8. Confidence In Your Skills

As a physician, it’s important that you feel confident in your skills and project that confidence in your work. This makes it easier for the patients to trust you and follow-through your prescribed treatment plan. When you operate from a place of confidence, you transfer that feeling into your team and a confident team performs at its best capabilities delivering top-notch patient care.

9. Receptive Attitude

No matter how good you were in medical school and your medical residency, you won’t have the answers to every single question. A receptive attitude implies that you can handle criticism and change your tactics when needed. Healthcare is constantly evolving and even physicians at the top of their game may have gaps in their knowledge due to advances in technology, medicine, and procedures. You need to have the ability and self-awareness to know what you don’t know and figure out the best ways to keep learning.

10. Positive Outlook

People, in general, can benefit from a positive outlook. However, in healthcare, where you’re dealing with illness and diseases, this soft skill for doctors comes in handy. The stress of the job, the teamwork, and the frequent meetings with patients can make it difficult for you to keep a sunny outlook all the time. Often, the harsh realities of healthcare can wear down even the strongest physicians. This is why taking a break and making a conscious effort to be positive can go a long way in managing stress.

Some skills may come more naturally to you than others, perhaps you can keep a positive attitude but you’re not great at taking criticism. An important part of being an excellent physician is keeping up with your skills and always looking for ways to improve. Find resources and situations where you can enhance these skills. Like hard skills, soft skills can also be improved with practice.