Soft Skills and Success in Healthcare

soft skills and success in healthcare

In this episode of Access On Air, Meg Sutton, a product manager at NHA speaks with Michelle Heller, NHA content strategy and an allied health educator focused on medical assisting and phlebotomy as well as Lisa Davila, RN, director of service excellence at Platte Valley Medical Center about the importance of soft skills in healthcare. They dive into how to teach these skills, touching on how it can be difficult to teach, and then discuss how these soft skills are evaluated, starting at the first interview.



NHA's PersonAbility helps effectively build essential softs skills and drive behavior change through a unique online learning resource that utilizes practice and assessment through virtual simulation. Learn more about PersonAbility



Read the full transcript below:

Introduction: Welcome to access on air from NHA. This podcast is dedicated to providing educators and employers of frontline healthcare workers with expert perspective on trends impacting and elevating the industry. These discussions can help you achieve your goals as you continue to pave pathways toward professional success for those working in allied health. Thanks for listening.

Meg Sutton: I am Meg Sutton and I am a product manager at NHA. I've spent the last year researching and developing products within the soft skills arena. Today, I have Michelle Heller with me. She is an allied health educator focused on medical assisting and phlebotomy. She works at NHA as well as a content strategist, and we also have Lisa Davila. Lisa is an RN and director of service excellence at Platte Valley Medical Center. Thank you for joining me, ladies.

Lisa Davila: Thank you for having us.

Meg Sutton: I've really been looking forward to this conversation. And today we're going to talk about soft skills in healthcare. There's never been, I think, a more relevant topic to cover than soft skills and really how these, the skillset impacts workers within, within the healthcare setting. So Lisa I'm, when I'm thinking about your role as director of service excellence, I bet you see the good, the bad and the ugly. I would imagine that you have stories that you could tell us about soft skills they use see in your medical center. So what do you see as the real impact of, of either good or bad soft skills in healthcare?

Lisa Davila: So soft skills, you know, comparing them to technical skills, technical skills for a healthcare worker may be stellar. They may be just absolutely to the letter, to the T, such as taking an EKG or getting a set of vital signs or inserting an IV.

Lisa Davila: But without those soft skills, what you see is the patient and their family members who may be in the hospital with them or coming to the visit, they don't feel completely cared for. So quality health care at this point technical expertise that is expected as part of my role, I research and review a lot of patient surveys. So patients will get a survey after they leave their appointment or their visit. And they, those surveys with comments are like a present with a gold bow on top, because let me tell you exactly how they felt. And many of the surveys that I review, they all say my care was great, but the technician knew what she was doing, but, and it's, that's where I start to pay attention. And that's soft skills, everything after that, but it is usually being referred. It's referring to the soft skills. So how that person understood that the patient was scared if they acknowledged that they were having some anxiety. If they said, you know what, we're going to go do that MRI, how are you doing today? And making that conversation along the way. So those are the things that really make kind of make it, or break it in healthcare today. So the impact of not having those skills, it just lends itself to a poor experience all around, because what is healthcare it's caring? And that part has to be there.

Meg Sutton: You're so right. I love how you say healthcare is caring. And you know, when you see your employees in these, these gaps that they have in soft skills, what do you think is the cause? Is it, is it the pressure of the environment? Is it just background in history? You know, what, what causes those, you know, those buts to come up on those? What do you see?

Lisa Davila: I think it could, it could be multiple factors there. When we're looking at a seasoned healthcare worker, they may have had those soft skills and they're burnt out. So when you've been in healthcare for a long time, depending on so many things, you can get to that point where you just want to get through your day. And it's a natural defense mechanism. It's caring for yourself first. You know, it's hard to care for others. If you're not caring for self and some people pull in, they just don't have that energy to exude that could also be a personality thing. Some people don't have natural soft skills, you know, you know that they're more introverted. It doesn't mean that they don't have them, but they're not so outwardly seen.

Lisa Davila: It could be that they're just, they, they, they're very technical minded. And hopefully one would think since healthcare is, I consider it a calling, those types of people, understanding themselves would not strive to move into a career such as that, you know, maybe if you're interested in health care, but you don't have those natural skills, something that may be more appealing to you is research or in a lab, or even within nursing, maybe working in the, or where your patients are not awake, go to the pact. You, you know, post anesthesia, that's where all of the people are with the essential soft skills. Yes. It could be a variation of things cause those to be lacking, but those are the big two that I see not a, not a good personality match for the job or it was at one time, but that person is now burnt out from the stress of health. Yeah.

Meg Sutton: Hear from educators a lot about how difficult it is to teach these, these soft skills and to really get in and train them. Because like you said, they could just be a fit issue. It could be a background issue. So Michelle, you know, from your standpoint as an educator and from your, your years of the classroom, what have you found that that makes soft skills so difficult to teach and to train people on?

Michelle Heller: Well, I think some of it's societal, I think that our expectations have been lowered throughout the last few years. You know, it's just no longer, we don't call, older people. Mr. And mrs. We don't, have those, natural things that we did back. And let's say 30 years ago where we had expectations of how you treated other people. I think technology has definitely played into some of the gaps that we're seeing as well. People aren't communicating face-to-face anymore. So that definitely does, create some struggles when you're an educator trying to tell students or trying to direct them, why they need to have soft skills in the first place and Lisa, I completely agree with you. You know, some people come already with this beautiful package of soft skills. They have it all great attitude, great communicator, very empathetic.

Michelle Heller: And then you have those who it doesn't come as natural. And as an educator, sometimes we have to really sit down and think, are we doing a service by keeping someone in our class that does not have these inherent skills? Can we teach them to a degree? I believe we can, but some people, I think it's going to be more difficult. Something. I always remember when I think about soft skills in healthcare I had a doctor come up to me one time and he States that he that he definitely could teach anybody technical skills, but he said, I can't teach somebody soft skills. He wanted me to take somebody that was at his office doing an externship out of the office. And I said, well, you know, what's the problem. And he talked about all of the problems that the student had, which included, you know, again, out of you know, she wasn't able to communicate effectively.

Michelle Heller: She wasn't dependable. She just didn't have a lot of those professional skills that she needed in order to work with patients. And so he said, don't send me anybody who does not have skills. He said, I'll take anybody any day of the week, who needs a little help with their blood pressures, who needs a little help with maybe giving injections, drawing blood, but I can't change somebody's personality. And that's what it really boils down to. So get back to what you talked about, why is it hard to train? That's part of it. It's also very difficult to come up with exercises to teach people soft skills. I mean, we can talk till we're blue in the face about why they're essential, why they're important, but to a lot of our students were just mom and dad. You know, I think a lot of the way that I teach soft skills is for the importance of the use of soft skills is to bring those experts in from the field like trees or like a Lisa to come in and say why it's important to possess skills in order to have a successful career in healthcare.

Michelle Heller: We can set up of course, a lot of role play and that's okay, but it's hard to come up with those exercises. It's also hard to get objective grading when you're doing those kinds of role play exercises. You can set up rubrics and so forth, but everybody's a little different in the way that they assess those role play exercises. So that can be difficult as well. Assessments are definitely hard. Like if you're doing a test to grade a, you know, maybe as a multiple choice tests filling the blank test, but you're asking them questions that have to do with soft skills. A lot of times it's hard not to have that, you know, three or four responses that could be correct because, you know, again, it's just very hard to teach those and very hard to assess them. So what else do you need from me, Megan?

Meg Sutton: No, I think that, I think that's great. And certainly it's what we found when we were putting together, you know, our product was soft skills that it is very tough to teach. And so, you know, having the opportunity to bring in simulation and to have people at the, the chance to do some of this soft skills work in, in a safe environment, I think is really important. Because when you're in a big group setting and let's say that maybe your skills aren't as sharp as they, as they can be you know, having a safe space to practice. And one that is that is graded objectively. Cause I think you're, you're right on the money. It's so hard as it, as an instructor, to grade every single student, you know, the same, same criteria because everybody's different. Everybody does, you know, the conversation a little bit differently. And that's one of the things I was so pleased with the simulations and PersonAbility, because it's those characters do the same conversation, time in, time out with the same grading. So that really, you can see where your students compare across the classroom, which is, I think, you know, either in education or a professional setting so important.

Michelle Heller: The other thing too with peer role play is that not everybody is serious about the role play. And so it's really hard to get out of that role, play what you want. So having simulation is really, really effective because that person that they are talking to and that simulator role plays their part perfectly every time. And so to have that, and like you said, to have that safe space, when you talk about simulation, it's a safe place for them to practice. There's not a lot of people watching them and you know, that can sometimes make them nervous and they don't know how to respond. So it's really nice that simulation adds that component of a safe space to practice their soft skills. Definitely.

Meg Sutton: Yeah, absolutely. So, Lisa, in the professional workspace, what are your strategies to help your employees work on their soft skills? So you know, when you're doing your annual reviews or coaching these associates, what does that look like? What, what would a student expect from their employer ultimately as far as, you know, expectations for soft skills and then ongoing coaching and feedback.

Lisa Davila: Right, yeah. I was just reflecting on everything Michelle was saying, so right on and you know... Going back, there's so many, there's so many, so many checkpoints, if you will. So when we have employees here, when we don't just have new grads, we don't just have seasoned nurses. We have this mix of all of them. So what I tend to do is start out with some didactic and where Michelle was saying about explaining why these are things so important. I think that is really, really key too, because if you, if you go in there and say, this is, this is what we're going to teach, this is what you have to do that. And, you know, they expect a script and you know, all of this, and it's hard to script something that you're wanting to come out authentically and you want them to have that cadence with their, their patients and families.

Lisa Davila: So as Michelle was saying, it's really hard to, to teach and script to these things because you want that natural piece to come out. So what I usually do is I'll start with a unit and I'll show them the Cleveland clinic, empathy video, I'll show them, you know, something that kind of gets them on the same page of this. These are how patients and families feel when they're coming into our space. There scared they're anxious, they're angry, they're worried about their bill. They're worried about if they're going to make it out of the hospital. So trying to put that empathetic, spin on it, of put yourself in their shoes and then let's get to work, you know? And then after that, I shadow them on the unit with their own patients to check them off on, you know, how they're doing rounding, how they're doing bedside shift report and including the patient.

Lisa Davila: So they are with a real patient. Now I'll preface with, you know, I work at a small community hospital. I can do this as one person. And that's a lot of my work all year, but sometimes during role-playing, you know, as, as Michelle said earlier, they may not be that invested in it, you know, and it's, and it's really hard to get them to be serious when they're role playing with a peer. So I try to catch them in real time, giving them feedback directly after, and some points in their conversation where it may be, was a little bit choppy or I can give them tips on, you know, it seemed like they were really nervous about the tests. So maybe this would have been a good time to give them a little bit more information about the test and then ask them about if their mom was coming up to visit today or some, you know, something else.

Lisa Davila: So I would give them just some coaching on how to have that conversation. And with the, with the newer grads, the younger nurses and techs any younger healthcare worker, they do have that hindrance of being reliant on technology for communication for pretty much their entire life. And, you know, I recall even with my own son he's super awkward on the telephone because he didn't grow up talking like we did, you know, and then he's 15. So I'm trying to get him to say, okay, why don't you call, you know, the rec center and see if they're open and he'll pick up the flow, he'll, you know, pick up his phone and say, you know, hi, it's Jack. You know, so, so they're coming from that place of not having that as a natural. So I try to meet them in their natural setting with real patients as one as one strategy. Yeah, yeah,

Meg Sutton: Yeah. That's great...And that, you know, that certainly once they're in your setting, you, you have to keep up that, that that workout, if you will, of, of working on these soft skills, it's not, I think everybody can get better at their soft skills because it's so... It's such a wide variety between emotional intelligence and your communication skills, your teamwork skills, all of those, you can continue to get better and better. You know, I'm wondering, what do you look for when you're hiring, when you're hiring students out of school or even coming into your organization in regards to soft skills, what are you looking for? What are the signals that you see from a qualified candidate?

Lisa Davila: Do you want me to go on that? Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So prior to this role, well, a few roles ago, I was a nurse manager at a larger hospital and I had about 15 employees. So I did a lot of interviewing and I use the performance based interview questions. They were very helpful. You know, the, tell me about a time when, and, you know, I insert different different scenarios, but then I just talked to him kind of one-on-one and I would always tell him, just forget, we're in an interview. Tell me about why you, don't, why you came into healthcare. Tell me about your life. Tell me about, you know, some of the things that made you, who you are as a person. And a lot of times from that I can get a pretty good sense of how, and now it's not foolproof.

Lisa Davila: I mean, they are in an interview, they're trying to be on their best behavior if you will. But I would purposefully just like take down that bale of questions and talk to them and see that, that one question, why did you choose to go into healthcare, speaks volumes? And I would usually get some really good information. And then I would just say, you know, Hey, I am, I'm a patient. And you know, I'm upset about the way the doctor explained my, my course of treatment. What would you say to me? Or, you know, I'm a family member and my loved one just, just died. What would you say to me as, as, as the nurse, as the tech as well, versus coming in contact with me. And that was usually a good indication as well, of empathy, empathy, compassion, the ability to console. You do a lot of consoling healthcare. And so that as a, as an intern, as a hiring manager, that's what I would do

Meg Sutton: Well...What a great thing for educators to think about for their classrooms, you know, taking those questions back and having those kinds of conversations with their students too. I think that that's, that's a great suggestion

Lisa Davila: Then at the same time, it can also, when I would ask that question, you know, why'd you go into healthcare or why did you become a nurse or, you know, it also gives them a little check as well of hmm. Well you know, if they're thinking, I'm not sure, or if they're thinking well, the money's great. You know, there's some things there that they may open your eyes and kinda open your eyes.

Michelle Heller: Oh, that one goes to the bottom of the pile. Exactly. They're in it for the money. Nope. Goes to the wrong answer. Yup.

Michelle Heller: Nope.

Lisa Davila: So, yeah. It can really tell you, tell you a lot and give them a chance to do some self reflection as well of you know, is this what you really want because this is, this is what you're going to encounter. And if you are stumped with me, you might want to go home and reflect on that.

Meg Sutton: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, that is a great suggestion. I love that. You know, Lisa, Michelle, thank you so much for joining today. Really have enjoyed talking to both of you and and look forward to future conversations about soft skills. Thanks. Thank you.




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