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The Softer Side of Healthcare – Why Soft Skills are Vital for Healthcare Workers Today

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry has faced a slew of challenges and changes that have impacted the way facilities operate, care for patients, and build business resilience. Healthcare institutions are being spurred to transform, and with the flurry of factors such as digitalisation, labour shortages, and burnout, it can be easy to forget that nurturing the softer side of operations – that is, the building of soft skills – is vital to fostering progress of this industry.

In this article, we take a look at which soft skills are a must-have for healthcare employees and how management can help them to develop them, thus ensuring that they (and the healthcare industry as a whole) is able to cope with the demanding medical landscape today.

The Demand for Labour = The Demand for Soft Skills

A study done by The Bureau of Labour Statistics in the US in 2019 projected that there would a 14% growth in healthcare jobs from 2018 to 2028; this is essentially because the country is facing the challenge of an ageing population that has a higher potential of becoming ill with chronic diseases. As such, the demand for healthcare services, and skilled workers, is on the rise. While having new employees enter the workforce with the requisite technical skills and medical knowledge is crucial, a valued worker would also have the requisite soft skills.

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This chart from the US Department of Health and Human Services illustrates the growth of the strategic population of the healthcare industry, estimating that the number of older people who will need medical attention will increase to nearly 50 million by 2050. Source: AMN Healthcare.

The fact of the matter is, there is a notable gap in soft skills when it comes to healthcare candidates, and this can be boiled down to a variety of factors, including a shift in focus in the education system, the advent of technology, and stress.

The Soft Skills Healthcare Workers Need Today

In a 2016 pilot study which was highlighted by AAPC, it was found that there are five soft skills that healthcare team members should have:

  1. Communication

While this soft skill is a must for workers across all industries, in healthcare, it can help save lives. Employees should be able to listen and understand instructions, as well as communicate their own points clearly Examples of healthcare work that requires effective communication include caregiving transitions, sharing of patient information and status, and diagnoses. In fact, poor communication can lead to delays in treatment or inappropriate therapies; it is estimated that 28% of surgical adverse errors can be attributed to miscommunication. Additionally, a lack of understanding between physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and patients can foster dangerous medication errors.

2. Teamwork

Since medical teams are generally made up of professionals from a variety of backgrounds, teamwork is crucial in healthcare. When high-pressure situations, conversations, processes, and decisions are present, employees must be able to work together to solve obstacles.

3. Empathy

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities tend to evoke fear and a range of negative emotions for people. As such, workers must be able to manage these emotions and show empathy for their patients; listening actively, being receptive to concerns, and looking for thoughtful and data-driven solutions is essential for medical professionals. Having empathy can also help healthcare employees decrease malpractice complaints, improve overall health outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and thus increase treatment adherence; a 2016 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that 65% of patient satisfaction was attributed to physician empathy.

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Patient satisfaction has a direct correlation with physicians having empathy. Source: NHA

4.   Flexibility

The abovementioned changes to businesses within the healthcare industry require employees to be flexible. Organisational changes can be tackled smoothly when teams have the tools to do their jobs, while also having the ability to adapt, be creative, make decisions, and assume leadership responsibly.

5.   Time management

In the healthcare industry, change happens quickly, whether it’s a patient’s progress or a need to pivot in terms of treatments and solutions. Workers must therefore be able to manage their time effectively and have the ability to prioritise crucial tasks to ensure that the patient receives the best care possible and that operations within the hospital remain efficient.

How Healthcare Management Teams Can Foster Soft Skills in their Workforce

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In 2020, job listings for healthcare workers emphasised the industry’s demand for employees who can work as a team. Source: FirstHand.

While it may seem a daunting task to upgrade the skills of an entire team of medical professionals, the first step is to really identify which skills are missing. Defining where the gap is will help healthcare workers to create an improvement plan and build these skills. Emphasising why the skill is important, and how to develop it is another important step.

Subsequently, employees must be given the space to learn these skills by practicing them on a daily basis. In line with this, workers should be given opportunities to engage with patients, attend training sessions on soft skills, and provided with the ability to receive feedback on their progress from management team members.

Lastly, management teams should be aware that the building of soft skills will be an ongoing process for their employees and should last the span of their career. Constant practice, as well as the provision of situations (both stressful and ordinary) to test these skills, will eventually lead to employees becoming valuable healthcare team members and create an environment that delivers stellar patient care.


1.     Case Western Reserve University – Why Soft Skills are Essential in Healthcare


3.     NHA – How Soft Skills Impact Healthcare Practices