Medical school students should master certain soft skills like humility, empathy, communication, leadership, and flexibility. Learn why and get tips for cultivating them.
If you’re a pre-med student, you know that you need to be intelligent, get good grades, and be generally impressive to get into the med school of your dreams. However, one of the most underrated requirements to succeeding as a medical student is mastering personal and interpersonal skills, also called ‘soft skills,’ a term that you may see alongside ’emotional intelligence.’
Which skills are the most crucial to master? Which skills will look best on a med school application? And, most importantly, how do you cultivate these skills if you don’t naturally possess them?
Here are 5 of the most important soft skills you need in order to succeed, along with actionable tips to help you work on that skill. While these skills will make you a better student and more appealing to medical schools, they’ll also help you be a better doctor and ultimately a better person.
#1 – Humility
Humility is everything in medicine, especially when your patient’s health is on the line. Prideful doctors simply don’t succeed: they make mistakes, they’re unliked, and they fail to connect with their patients.
In medical school, the emphasis is finding the right answer and getting the best score on exams. However, humility helps you become a better learner because you’re willing to admit when you’re wrong and you’re never afraid to ask for help.
Someday, when you get a patient and don’t know what the diagnosis is, you need to be ready to admit that, ask for help, and keep your patient safe.
- Practice gratitude and mindfulness
- Adopt a beginner’s mindset
#2 – Compassion and Empathy
Developing compassion and empathy is a must for medical students. After all, the golden rule will apply to your patients: treat others how you want to be treated. The only way you can figure out how you would want to be treated in a situation is to be able to put yourself in that person’s shoes.
On the other hand, maybe you are a naturally compassionate and empathetic person at heart, but you have no way to show that in your application. Luckily, the action tips for this section address both kinds of people.
- Volunteer with an organization that helps people less fortunate than you
- Become active in allyship for marginalized people
- Read more fiction (did you know that fiction readers are more empathetic than those who don’t read fiction?)
#3 – Communication (Written, Verbal, and Non-Verbal)
Many medical students are unaware of the number of social interactions involved in being a doctor. Naturally, you know you have to communicate with your patient, but you also have to communicate with other doctors, administrative staff, nurses, and a patients’ family and friends.
There are three areas of communication you need to master: written, verbal, and nonverbal.
- Written Communication: Consider all of the emails, reports, notes, letters, and more you need to write as a doctor. Especially when you’re first immersed in clinical experiences, you’ll be doing a lot of paperwork and administrative tasks. Writing well will help you in so many areas of your life and career, all while improving your relationships, minimizing conflict, and getting your messages across clearly and accurately.
- Take a professional writing class at your school or via Coursera
- Read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser
- Verbal Communication: Unsurprisingly, you will be talking with a lot of people in medical school as well as in your workplace when you graduate. You know the importance of words and how they impact others, and you will find yourself in emotionally charged conversations with patients and families, so being a solid verbal communicator is critical.
- Join your local Toastmasters club
- Think before you speak
- Focus on clarity in conversation, not jargon or impressive vocabulary
- Read “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, Stephen R. Covey
- Nonverbal Communication: While experts are unsure about what percentage of communication is nonverbal, nearly every study suggests it’s above 55%. That means every conversation you have is affected more by your body language than what you actually say. Nonverbal communication can set patients at ease and instill confidence in your colleagues — or it can do the opposite.
- Become an expert ‘active listener’
- Learn the elements of good nonverbal communication
- Video some of your conversations so you can watch your body language and pick up on opportunities for improvement
#4 – Leadership
Leadership is a necessary soft skill for just about anyone, medical student or otherwise. However, the importance of knowing how to lead others in an empowering – not overbearing – way cannot be overstated. You’ll become a stronger figure of authority, more trustworthy, and more likeable as a doctor, peer, and boss.
As a doctor, you’ll be in charge of other people. Whether you are the head of a care team or you run your own practice, becoming a better leader will enrich your med school application and your life in general.
- Read “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey
- Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
- Read “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek
- If you’re not currently in a leadership position in a club on campus, make it happen!
#5 – Adaptability to Change
One soft skill that isn’t discussed nearly enough in the medical world is being adaptable to change; you may also have heard of this concept as being flexible.
Technology is evolving rapidly, and the limits of what is possible is constantly changing in the healthcare field. Inevitably, you’ll encounter new technology, new diagnoses, new patients, and a constant shifting of theories and treatments.
- Read medical news publications to stay on top of changes and technological innovations
- Embrace a lifelong learner’s mindset
- Focus on the silver lining of changes — better outcomes for your patients!
MedSchoolCoach Empowers You to be a Strong Medical School Applicant
Your medical school application is so much more than your MCAT score and GPA. Medical schools want to know you’ll be a good fit, and ultimately how you’ll go on to be a great doctor. Soft skills are an important part of demonstrating that. They can be cultivated through intentional practice, and through personal growth via your experiences, volunteer activities, and work involvement.
When you’re ready to apply to medical school, MedSchoolCoach admissions advisors can help tie these soft skills into your personal narrative and help you show admissions committees that you’re a strong, well-rounded candidate.
Schedule your free consultation today to learn more about our services.