Balancing Hard and Soft Skills in Healthcare

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When speaking of healthcare, most people have visions of caring doctors and nurses working tirelessly and selflessly to heal and comfort patients. We all know doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who fit that description. They play an important role in our lives to help us stay healthy and help us recover when we’re sick. 


Healthcare professionals lead a double life. They form relationships with patients, a healthcare team of professionals at hospitals and clinics, and those they work with in their practice. They are also employees or business owners, with their own employees, co-workers. While they may have all the credentials and certifications necessary to perform their duties, they may not have the required “soft skills” necessary to be effective leaders.


An article by Brian Evje, Inc., in Business Insider, “Why Executives Are So Bad At The Behavioral Side of Management,” doesn’t single out the healthcare industry. But the insight and suggestions in the article are applicable. Healthcare is supposed to have a soft side when dealing with people in crisis or routine health situations. Technical skills are primary when treating patients or prescribing medications, but a friendly, empathetic “bedside manner” goes a long way to gaining a patient’s confidence. The ability to effectively communicate, lead and interact with colleagues, peers and team members demonstrates leadership behavior and helps move everyone forward. 


In healthcare, emphasis is put on the “hard skills,” and rightly so. Before you put your life or health in someone’s hands, you need to have assurance they have the necessary training and track record. The so-called “soft skills” are seen as secondary. Patients wait well past their appointment times. Doctors and other professionals barely utter a comforting word and just get down to business. There is little time for small talk with a waiting room full of patients, phone calls, staff interruptions, computer systems that go up and down and the other everyday tasks of running a business. But are these really “soft skills?” 


Leaders set the tone by their behavior. They are always leading because someone is always watching. Successful people aren’t successful on their own. Leaders inspire others to take on difficult tasks and work hard because they set clear expectations, encourage and appreciate others and model that behavior themselves. Without those “hard soft skills,” leaders can fall short. The art lies in blending the hard skills with the soft; the technical expertise with the behavioral.


The article suggests three ways to improve leadership:


  1. Admit soft skills are important. Becoming empathetic or taking time to build relationships isn’t a sign of weakness and won’t diminish authority. In a fast-paced environment, it’s easier to bark orders and give instruction. Leadership is about gaining trust and respect. People are more willing to give a little extra when they feel connected and valued.
  2. Rethink “hard and soft” skills. Do you focus on the technical or clinical side of the business and leave the “soft and fuzzy” to your office team or someone else? Hard skills get results. Under that definition, effective communication, coaching and giving feedback are hard skills that can make your team and practice more effective.
  3. If your team has been dropping subtle hints, or communication is lacking with your team, get some help from a communications coach or professional. Find a friend or colleague you trust and ask for some honest feedback.


Learning to balance hard and soft skills will make you a more effective leader and person. It can also enhance the effectiveness of your personal and professional life.


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  • Thurman L
    Thurman L
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about article. Regards
  • JOAN C
    JOAN C
    I absolutely agree.  I have been practicing this for many years.  Patients do appreciate it,as they feel you are intereted in them as people
  • Noris m
    Noris m
    Excellent article, you get to the point!
  • Corinne R
    Corinne R
    excellent article!  I've often felt that my "soft skills" are not as appreciated by my superiors as they are by my patients.  Don't know about the rest of you, but being able to form these relationships and to have a patient relate to me and what I'm telling them is one of the greatest joys I have in my daily practice.
  • susan N
    susan N
    The article sounded completely naive. The expense of healthcare is forcing the time crunch.
  • Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper
    Thanks for the heartfelt comments.  Your experiences and suggestions for improving the current state of healthcare show the type of care and empathy you have for your patients.  Feel free to share the article with your leadership teams, doctors and hospital administrators.  If it has prompted so much conversation, it may help to open up dialogue at your workplace as well.  Keep caring despite the negative feedback you get from management.  I love the comment that "empathy heals while meds cure."  The effects of an illness linger long after the symptoms are gone.  empathy and someone who will listen provide the healing that is needed to make a person whole.  Thanks again for sharing your experiences.Mary Nestor-Harper
  • Devon T
    Devon T
    This should not only be  in direct health care facilitiy personel but also in the health care insurance industry as patients and relatives deal with those kind of issues.
  • Julia B
    Julia B
    I believe that a kind and caring demeanor can go a long way, particularly with patients who are upset or nervous about the visit. There is a lot of pressure in a busy practice to keep things moving, but if the patient is calm and feels like they are being treated with dignity and respect, the out come will be so much better for everyone involved!     
  • Blessing I
    Blessing I
    This is so true.In nursing, you learn by practice that empathy heals while meds cure! And to me, healing is deeper than just cure. Empathy simply puts you in the patient's shoes. Some of us are ill-tempered or irritated by life or people around us - and we don't have any pain or anxiety to compound it - how much more when we have pain, or afraid of loss of a loved one, or anxious we may remain paralyzed for life, the list goes on of issues that bother a patient or his/her significant other.Some patients just need extra 2-5 minutes of your listening ear to hear themselves voice out their concerns, and thereby find out their problems are not entirely hopeless. And did I mention you should be non-judgmental and have an unconditional positive regard for him/her.I've learned to give "a little more love" to a patient or loved one who is "fussy", and guess the outcome? Almost always they calm down before the end of the shift, become so pleasant you won't believe the transformation and request if I could be their nurse the next day! And of course, other nurses always wonder what magic wand I use on those patients, the answer, empathy!
  • Maria p
    Maria p
    I agree with Carol B!! I am sorry that that happened to her. In my experience, it is men who have problems with the soft skills, i.e. male doctors, much more so than women, i,e, female nurses and doctors. I also find that men are rewarded for their lack of soft skills and women are punished for too many soft skills. My point is that healthcare has become about money and time, not compassion to the patient. It is the patient who always suffers in this situation! So sad!
  • Theresa P
    Theresa P
    I do like this article. It hits the nerve of healthcare professionals, and the same would be applicable to the staff, office management, and others that do not have so much interaction but just enough, that it makes a difference.
  • Anissa M
    Anissa M
    I think this article and the information it provides as extremely vital.  My chosen field of endeavor is health AND human services.  I know both but because my degree is more on the human services aspect, I miss a lot of opportunities to work in the health profession whose primary focus is on the hard skills.  Everything in the universe requires perfect balance--I think that a collaboration between health and human services should be in the hospitals and clinics for one doesn't have to be a nurse/P.A., etc to know how to outsource and utilize community resources which are needed for overall health care.
  • charlotte n
    charlotte n
    In my experience, everything is about "the bottom line".  Doctors and hospital executives have forgotten, if they ever knew, that our patients are people. Most of the time, we, the nurses are the only ones who show kindness to the patient AND to the family. Because of the economy, nurses have more patients, more computer work, and less and less time with actually caring for the patients. I see more and more disgruntled patients because "no one will listen." A good, experienced, caring nurse has become obsolete. And I have become dissolusioned and frustrated with the current system and my career.  
  • Patricia D
    Patricia D
    Your article inspired me to reply.  I have been a nurse in multiple roles in acute care, management, consulting and education.  As of late, I simply wanted to give good bedside care to med surg consumers.  I worked in a beautiful setting with a patient load of 7 with surgical and medical folks. What I found was My type of care is no longer wanted except for lip service to boost patient satisfaction scores for administration and market care.  My kind of nursing is now being called "old school" because I believe and practice hands on care whether it be a backrub giving a glass of water or sitting with a dying patient and helping them to feel unafraid.  It means assessment and listening to the patient and their families, truly Listening, not just taking a bunch of info down so that the risk management and the 3rd party payees are satisfied. There is little care planning done other than that on paper.  New graduates are being taught that it is not their "job" to put patient on bedside commodes, talk to them and give them feedback.  Florence Nightingale once said that the most harm we could ever do is to keep the patient afraid by not telling them what was happening to them, yet this is the norm.  I am ashamed to say that most new and even seasoned nurses have forgotten that we are the providers of emotional, spiritual, psychosocial needs of the patient and that we still must have the knowledge of the technical aspect.  I would like to be in a position where I could give these values back to folks in my field and I try whenever possible but the flagrant dislike and hateful behavior from my peers have been overwhelming.  So glad to share with you my feelings
  • Merilee W
    Merilee W
    I think hard and soft skills are very important in the healthcare settings we have today. We must all strive for helping the patient when they are down.
  • Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper
    Thank you for all the comments.  The article has touched so many of you in a lot of different ways.  I have had customer service reps tell me they have been fired for spending too much time with a customer.  In healthcare, you can't spend hours with each patient or client, but blending soft skills with the hard can make the time you spend more effective and extend healing past medications and procedures.  Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
  • Ida B
    Ida B
           Mary harper, I agree with your comments regarding the patients care. And how you treat them with respect and dignity. Thank You!!
  • Ana A
    Ana A
    I like the action to look for solutions to the problem right away. People do not think on asking for help from a professional coach these days there is so much paralysis  when there is extra money to spend.
  • Gretchen B
    Gretchen B
    My thoughts on "leadership lack the soft-skill part is highly" is highly accurate.  In the sense of leading, one must realize that communication plays a pivotal role when implementing change.  Leaders must learn how to develop one person to be an agent for change, through communication and other important factors.  Nevertheless, having a soft skill is easy to read and learn but practicing it in the healthcare arena is a true challenge.
  • Paula H
    Paula H
    This is a very good article
  • Leslie S
    Leslie S
    I am so glad to see this article and whole heartedly agree! With the medical community changing and technology moving at record speed I believe the medical community is failing desperately in remembering their " soft skills" and what led them to care for others! Thanks for this contribution!
  • Laura B
    Laura B
    "Soft"skills make all the difference! I worked in the medical field for 8 years as a CNA and rehab tech. Employers don't always have good personal skills and it is hurting the patient and client care. This is a great article that needs to acknowledged!
  • Tyrone F
    Tyrone F
    I enjoyed reading the article about hard and soft skills in healthcare.One of my weaknesses is the ability of answering and comforting the patient I am with oppose to rushing off to perform my duties with the next patient.  I do understand that there are other patients waiting,however my duties are not complete until the patient I'm attending to is complete with no more questions  or no further assistance from me.
  • Diane M
    Diane M
    Very relevant. As a dental hygienist for 33 years, I've worked for dentists with excellent hard skills who lose patients due to lack of soft skills. Or, their hard & soft skills are excellent with patients, but not good with staff. It's a balancing act, and just being aware of it is a good first step.
  • Michael B
    Michael B
    I would like to hear more about the hard and soft skills in pharmacy. Would you consider that talking to patients at a retail would incorporate both skill sets? If so how do you suggest to balance them or which do you see has the most benefit?

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