Soft Skills Are Hard, But Necessary

Soft Skills Are Hard, But Necessary

Do you have the soft skills to be an empathetic physician? Thanks to advancements in technology some physicians haven’t developed or been taught the soft skills of medicine intended to provide patients with better outcomes. Medical curriculums should be teaching essential skills like listening first, empathy for the patient and understanding how to communicate with a family. The pandemic has solidified the need for human interaction for hope to flourish.


I recently read a beautifully written article by Sharee Johnson, a clinical psychologist from Australia.  She is a practicing psychologist and professional life coach with 23 years of experience.  She revealed some wonderful insights into her own family care with her husband and how this brought her to help physicians as a Coach and Mentor after his passing in 2011.


What she came to find is that more empathetic physicians had better patient outcomes.  But sadly, with their hurried schedules and time constraints, anger, hunger and burnout, these empathetic skills can be undermined.  Ok, so we all are probably in great agreement with that premise, but how do we right the ship, so to speak.  She calls these the soft skills of medicine which don’t seem to be addressed in the medical curriculum today.  While evidence based scientific training has improved in these high-tech times, she notes that these soft skills need to be learnt incidentally.


So here in lies the important inflection point; we need to develop and teach these soft skills in our medical schools and training programs.  With my years of clinical experience, I believe it is even more important than ever for young physicians to receive and benefit from this type of training.


What has the pandemic taught us?  Well, I believe in these times of explosive technology and information, we all crave and need human interaction.  Bingo, my friends!   So now is the time to go back to the nascent days of a medical career and teach these soft skills in the second and third years of school.  Basic skills like listening first, empathy for the patient, understanding how to communicate with a family.  To allow hope to flourish as much as possible.  We can teach these soft skills and we can continue to Coach/Mentor these skills out and thru training to the actual practice world.  Medicine cannot be an absolute commodity-driven business, or these skills will be lost.   Just as young undergraduates or young people would benefit from life skills training like how to get a mortgage or buy a car, youthful physicians would benefit from soft skills education.


Here is a thought to take away - ask any older physician who are some of the best and most empathetic people they know.   That’s right, a NURSE!  Let’s develop a course where nurses along with medical students learn these soft skills together. I bet it would be a win/win for both curriculums!  Let’s do this!!


Thanks Sharee!



To read more of Dr. Rick Zollinger's blog "The Script Pad" go to


MD Coaches, LLC is a company dedicated to developing and empowering physicians to realize a greater satisfaction in their roles. Understanding the challenges and operational concerns for both physicians and hospital administrators. MD Coaches utilizes experience and coaching skils to support their physician clients in establishing strategies for positive career progression.


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