The Art Of Patient Care: X Essential Soft Skills For A Successful Doctor Career

You’ve mapped out your path to a career as a doctor, starting with a solid education and then moving on to medical school, boards, and licensing. These steps are all essential before you can work by yourself with patients, but if you want to be truly successful, adding soft skills to your list of physician abilities is a must-do.

What Are Soft Skills?

In a nutshell, soft skills — otherwise known as a person’s emotional intelligence (EQ) — are the character traits that determine how they interact with others or their dependability as they do their job. These can be developed through role modeling and experience, but not taught out of a book. 

Soft skills include things like taking initiative, showing up to work on time consistently, and working as a team. They can be just as vital to a job as the hard skills required to get the work done.

EQ and the Doctor in You

No, you won’t see these traits on the job postings you apply for or take courses on them during med school. However, the role of a physician is challenging, with substantial high-pressure decision-making and responsibility. The better you are with certain EQ skills, the more streamlined your job becomes.

Here are three essential soft skills you should hone if you want to be the most successful doctor possible.

1. Leadership

Your position is one of inherent leadership. You guide your patients, your nurses, your care teams, the rest of your staff, and the department or practice. How you lead determines whether you build those who willingly work with you because of loyalty or those who are there because they feel like they have no other choice.

It’s up to you to motivate and encourage those you interact with by honing strong leadership skills. When you have loyal employees, they are more likely to stay with you through the good and bad times and be more productive in their jobs. They’re less likely to gossip and feed drama in the workplace, which bleeds into patient care.

Keep in mind that being in charge does not make you a leader. Leaders care for those under their umbrella, encourage and coach them, and make them feel appreciated. If this isn’t part of your natural skill set, consider taking courses that help you understand how to lead versus simply dictating and delegating.

2. Empathy

You’ll be tasked with giving patients life-changing news at times, for the good or bad, and that takes sensitivity and a delicate touch. 

Sure, you can walk into a room, tell someone they only have a few months to live or their loved one passed away, and leave. You did your job. But how you handle sharing that news with them matters.

Empathy involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and then treating them how you think they would need to be treated. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean handling it how you’d like it to be handled. You must quickly recognize the other person’s potential emotional needs and attempt to reach them at that level.

3. Communication

From paperwork to interpersonal discussions, physicians communicate thousands of times a day. How well you get your point across quickly and thoroughly can save you hours of hassle each week.

Communication is verbal, written, and physical. Your ability to use each of these areas well matters.

On-the-Job Communication

For instance, most job applications begin in the written sector. You’ll write a cover page introducing yourself, include your resume and CV, and submit it to the appropriate company. 

The first impression they’ll have of you is your cover page, and knowing how to communicate the right balance of professionalism and personality may make or break landing the interview. (See this article by Physicians Thrive to learn more about the importance of cover letters.)

Verbal communication includes the ability to get your point across with the right words to match the person you’re talking to by adjusting your tone and vocabulary choice. For example, if you’re trying to explain a health condition to someone who doesn’t have a medical background, you shouldn’t talk to them as though they’re your colleagues but still treat them with similar respect.

Finally, you should know enough about visual (nonverbal) cues to recognize what they’re saying. This skill will help you recognize when patients aren’t telling you something that you probably should know. 

The ability to read nonverbal cues can also reduce the need for verbal instruction. If you build a team that works well together, the silent cues speak volumes. 

Someone’s demeanor may show they’re having a bad day or are distracted. Your nurse may recognize that when you make a movement, they need to give you a particular tool. 

All of these verbal, written, and nonverbal cues are part of patient care. As you grow the soft skill of communication, you’ll become more successful overall.


Building your career as a physician requires a strong foundation of textbook knowledge. But growing your reputation as a successful doctor who people want to work for and go to when they need help happens when you have these three soft skills along with your medical know-how.

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