Why doctors need life skills

Medical school prepares doctors for patient care: perform a history and physical, and based on the findings, consider the next diagnostic tests to order, review all data, and develop a treatment plan. By graduation from medical school, you are skilled to perform those duties with a certain level of competency and confidence.

Success in the next phase of this journey and the rest of your life depends on honing those skills and acquiring new ones. This is where the gap exists for many doctors. Many doctors continue to rely on the skills and strategies learned in medical school and the ones they picked up in training, and fail to develop a plan for life long learning where they purposefully master proven skills and strategies to create predictable success for their life and career.

Doctors are struggling, getting discouraged, and feeling like they’re not cut out for this because of not fully understanding that the skills acquired in medical school, such as solid study habits, commitment to the tasks, and strong work ethic, are the foundation.   They are the skills upon which to build. It is not where they are meant to stay. Physicians are struggling because they’re not honing their current skills nor developing new skills to complement their new level of achievement.

Doctors are struggling, getting discouraged, and feeling overwhelmed because they haven’t tapped into life skills to support them as they meet with the challenges in medicine. Sure they have baseline coping skills. But they experience life in ways that other people just don’t. As doctors they are asked to confront poor prognosis and even life and death in one exam room with all the emotional triggers that accompany that, then move on to the next exam room to give another patient better news with a smile.   And they are expected to do it in less than 15 minutes with little time to recalibrate their own emotions and energy.  Effectively navigating this means having daily practices in place that support their emotional and spiritual well-being.  Most doctors either don’t know the importance or haven’t invested the time to develop this area.

Doctors are struggling, getting discouraged, and have low self-confidence because they haven’t nurtured their people skills so that they can effectively interact with the team. Communication skills, setting clear boundaries, delegating appropriate tasks to the right team member, and giving praise so team members feel heard and valued are all skills that must be nurtured throughout their career. As a result of not taking the time to hone and master these skills, doctors experience breakdowns in communication, frustration when expectations are not met, decreased effectiveness and productivity, and even delays in patient care.

The great news is that these are all skills that can be learned and mastered, and it doesn’t require a lot of additional time.  It requires the willingness to acknowledge your strengths and use your strengths as the foundation for further growth and development. It requires the willingness to suspend judgment when challenges arise.

When doctors and other medical professionals master these skills, the team functions like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Each member of the team feels valued. There is nothing that feels as great as when the team is in sync, and patient care is well executed. It is truly something to aspire to achieve.

Stephanie Wellington is a physician and can be reached at Nurturing MDs.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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