Top 9 Doctor Skills (Plus Definition, Examples and Tips)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 13 December 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Choosing to become a doctor is a big commitment, as it often takes years of dedicated studying and clinical preparation before you can enrol in medical school. Once in medical school, you begin coursework that prepares you with the knowledge necessary to become a doctor. If you want to become a doctor, it's important to develop the skills necessary to succeed in the role. In this article, we discuss why learning doctor skills is important, share a few examples of skills doctors need and explain how to improve these skills.
What are doctor skills?
Doctor skills are abilities you can develop and use to perform medical tasks, such as assessing patient symptoms and prescribing treatment regimens and medications. Doctors are medical professionals who specialise in a variety of fields. Therefore, the skills doctors need for their careers can vary depending on their specialisation. For example, while future paediatricians may spend more time learning how to diagnose illnesses typically found in children, future surgeons may focus on perfecting their stitching techniques and scalpel incisions.
Despite the wide variance of skills among doctors of different specialities, there are a few foundational soft and hard skills that all doctors need to succeed in their role. The right combination of skills, such as professionalism, excellent bedside manner and the ability to quickly recall medical information, can help you become a skilled physician.
Top 9 skills every doctor needs
Here are a few examples of key skills for a doctor:
1. Communication skills
Communication is vital in every field, especially in medicine. Interacting with colleagues and patients forms a large part of your daily programme. For instance, communication is an important part of initial diagnosis. Scans and tests can confirm or rule out certain theories, but to understand what's going on with the patient, it's important to ask the right questions, understand their answers and convey to them in simple language what your thoughts are. Similarly, it's important to understand what other professionals, such as pharmacists, paramedics and nurses, are telling you and provide them with clear instructions in return.
2. Problem-solving skills
Much of medical diagnosis involves collecting pieces of evidence and clues and then identifying a cause and solution. Thus, it's important to have excellent problem-solving skills. While your training can provide you with the technical knowledge to understand such cases, it's still important to cultivate and develop the ability to decompose issues and create an internal algorithm that implements that knowledge.
In addition, it's important to be able to think creatively. Some diagnoses may be challenging, and the test results might not match your assumptions. Thus, it's important to be creative and approach the problem from a different perspective.
3. Interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills can help doctors build strong relationships with their colleagues and patients. For physicians, these interpersonal skills refer to their positive bedside manner or their ability to interact on a mature, personable and empathetic level with their patients. It's important for physicians to use this emotional intelligence to make sure that their patients feel validated and supported while they undergo treatment. These skills can also extend to a physician's ability to collaborate and work as part of a larger team of health care professionals.
4. Attention to detail
When reviewing patient histories, drug doses, allergies, cultural customs, physiological differences and every other single aspect of a busy hospital ward, it's important that you notice all details.
This can help you be aware of drug contraindications and ensure you get the right drug dosages for patients. This skill can also help you identify a problem that requires attention so you can treat a patient. For example, if a particular patient keeps falling every few weeks, it may be clumsiness or it could be something more threatening. Observing trends can help you create effective treatment plans. Excellent doctors notice everything, even at the end of a busy, long day.
5. Decision-making skills
When it comes to patient care, doctors make all final clinical decisions. Thus, it's important to be comfortable taking responsibility and making tough decisions. This means overseeing and managing patient treatment plans and having to explain and justify them to family members. It also means being able to make quick decisions. For example, if you work in a hospital's emergency department, you may have a patient who's fine one moment and nervous the next. Being able to remain professional, calm and cool under stressful situations and make sound clinical decisions is a valuable skill that excellent doctors possess.
6. Leadership skills
As a doctor, you may make many important clinical decisions. Nurses and other medical professionals may look to you for guidance and answers, so it's important to take action immediately. Later on in your career, you may mentor or train junior physicians and medical students, so it's important to have excellent leadership skills. This doesn't only mean imparting knowledge but also leading by example and being there for colleagues when things don't go well.
7. Teamwork skills
It's important for any medical professional to have the ability to collaborate and work as part of a larger team. This may be in an out of hospital setting or in an acute setting, such as in a trauma team, or it could be within the wider treatment system where you're providing and receiving input from other medical professionals, such as oncologists or psychiatrists.
Either way, the ability to interact and establish strong relationships with colleagues and peers is vital, not just for patient care but also to create a harmonious working environment each day. Doctors can achieve anything with good nurses and vice versa. Thus, it's important to be a team player at all times.
It's important for doctors to remain professional at all times throughout a patient's treatment by keeping calm and using a respectful tone. It's essential for doctors to be self-aware when treating those with cultural or identity differences and those with stressful conditions. Also, it's also important to remember that patients may have a history of doctors treating them in an unprofessional manner, and they may bring all of those experiences with them to their appointments.
Resilience is the ability to overcome challenges. It's important to be resilient because becoming a doctor means exposing yourself to things that may impact you. From a very early part of your career, you may see things that might upset you and change you. It's important to develop a system so you can receive the support you need to process and handle this.
If things can easily upset you, then it isn't necessarily a bad trait. It shows that you're compassionate, after all. It's important, though, to learn to manage this and make sure that it never affects your judgement, professionalism or ability to treat a patient.
How to improve your skills as a doctor
Although you can learn many of the skills necessary to become a successful doctor throughout medical school, clinical rotations, internships and residencies, you can still improve your skills outside of those programmes as well. Here are a few steps you can take to improve your skills as a doctor:
Continue your education: After almost 12 years of professional schooling, doctors are often reluctant to continue their education while in practice. Despite this, attending a lecture, taking a course and keeping up to date on new research are all ways to help you stay updated while developing your skills even further.
Practise your communication and interpersonal skills: Interpersonal skills can make a huge difference in how your patients feel throughout their treatment. It's important to continually practise speaking sensitively, thinking emphatically, listening actively and working towards conflict resolution.
Find a mentor: Practising doctors and medical students alike can benefit from seeking out a mentor. By identifying a doctor you see as a role model, you can work with them as your mentor. Over time, your mentor can offer you support and advice, and you can try to emulate the characteristics you think are most admirable about them.
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