Soft skills, especially communication and empathy, are important in all fields, but they’re vitally important for college students pursuing careers in the health care field. There’s a reason the term “bedside manner” came into existence!

Having people skills is central to interacting with patients, even if your students are looking into health care finance and expect to end up in a billing office. You can help increase your students’ cultural competency by focusing on some of the important soft skills that they’ll need as professionals.

Dealing with uncertainty

Patients don’t want to think their doctor or health care staff are uncertain about their ailments; a professional must project calm and competency. But developing that air of confidence can be tricky. According to Rose Weitz in The Sociology of Health, Illness, and Health Care: A Critical Approach 7th edition, “From the start of medical school … students must learn to cope emotionally with uncertainty and how to reduce uncertainty where possible.” (274) According to Weitz, students have to learn to balance whether their uncertainty is due to their own lack of familiarity with a subject, or whether the answers to their questions simply aren’t yet available in the field. Students should also be aware that, while they should hide uncertainty from patients, it’s important for them to bring questions to their professors and seek help from experts when they can’t find answers on their own.

But Weitz noted that students should be careful that their calm aura not turn into an authoritarian relationship. “This is particularly problematic when proper treatment really is uncertain,” Weitz explained. (Weitz, 275)

Most important soft skills in health care

What are the most important soft skills for college students studying health care? A contributor to the blog post “Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Health Care” for Carrington College listed several skills students should focus on.

  • Empathy. While medical professionals often need to practice emotional detachment from their patients in order to make logical and informed assessments about treatments, a healthy dose of empathy in their interactions with others goes a long way toward developing trust. Adding role-playing opportunities to your curricula can give students practice in imagining themselves in the role of patient–and then switch sides to see things from the professional point of view.
  • Communication skills. These are vital in any field, but precise communication with both patients and colleagues is even more important when a patient’s health–or life–is on the line. Any written assignment helps students better organize their writing skills, and oral presentations and debates can stretch verbal communication skills.
  • Team work. Like communication, this one is applicable in almost all fields. Integrating team projects into classroom curricula is one way to continue to work with students on building these skills.
  • Dealing with pressure. Med school can be a high pressure zone, which can help prepare students for the intensity of the health care profession. But it’s easy for med students to feel anxious, depressed, or just exhausted without the proper support. Sometimes, a few encouraging words can be all it takes to keep your students from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Dealing with change. As Weitz noted, clinical experience is often highly valued in the medical field because there can be so little time for practicing doctors to keep up on the latest research. And yet, research can dramatically change the best practices for treating patients. Even on the administrative side in health care professions, change is constant, particularly given the Affordable Care Act and its consequences on insurance claims and policies. Students may need to put a positive spin on coping with change, because they will face it so frequently in their professional lives.

What soft skills do you integrate into your classroom curricula? Share your experiences in the comments below!


Reference: Weitz, Rose. 2017. The Sociology of Health, Illness, and Health Care: A Critical Approach, 7th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.