How Soft Skills Contribute to Success in Healthcare and Social Work Careers

Healthcare workers train for years to develop the skills that allow them to do their jobs. In-depth knowledge is important, but what about soft skills? Communication. Empathy. Personality. These are the factors that determine how effectively a healthcare worker will be able to deal with and comfort their patients.

They are also harder to teach.

In this article, we take a sweeping look at the importance of soft skills in healthcare and social work. Read on to learn more about how basic elements of your personality may contribute to your success in these important careers.

What Do Healthcare and Social Work Careers Have in Common?

First, why are we lumping social work and healthcare into a common category?

While these careers are distinct in terms of training and responsibilities, both put the people working these jobs in close contact with people in moments of great vulnerability.

Education and training may equip you with the skills you need to know how to hook a patient up to a vaccine or support someone who has just been released from prison.

Can a textbook teach you how to show them empathy? How to say the right things to a family member who is struggling with their chronically ill loved one’s diagnosis?

The answer, in most cases, is no. Soft skills can be honed and developed, but they can’t be taught in the same way that other professional traits can be.

Defining Soft Skills

Soft skills are defined simply as personal traits that allow you to work well with others. These include things like communication, time management, critical thinking, adaptability, teamwork, and interpersonal relationships.

These skills often bleed together. Rarely do we think actively about them as we go about our days. When we do think about soft skills, it’s often in the context of noticing that someone lacks them. People with well-developed soft skills adapt naturally to their circumstances.

Below, we will take a look at some concrete examples pertaining to healthcare and social work.

Soft Skills Improve Your Ability to Leverage Empathy

Emphasis on the word “leverage.” Empathy is a soft skill in its own right, but it’s useless if you are ineffective at communicating or nurturing strong interpersonal relationships. Imagine a patient going through a lengthy recovery process.

They are hospitalized and have been for weeks. It’s quite possible that they have still more weeks ahead of them. Studies show that this person’s mental state will have a significant impact on their probability of making a successful recovery. To that end, he’s in luck.

Three days out of the week he is attended to by Maggie. Maggie is a nurse six years out of school. She’s just as talented from a medical perspective as anyone else working the floor, but it’s her personality that makes the biggest difference in Hypothetical Patient’s life.

She asks about his life back home. She makes him feel seen beyond his condition. Reminds him that he has a life beyond the hospital that he will be getting back to, one day, hopefully soon.

That type of care can produce a degree of optimism in patients—the importance of which is hard to quantify. When people feel good about a difficult process they have to go through—medical procedures, social work services— they tend to do better than those who have a bad attitude.

Nurses/social workers like Maggie make the people they are working with feel better about their experiences.

Soft Skills Heavily Influence Productivity

When people talk about soft skills, it’s personality traits that come first and foremost to mind. They think about people like Maggie, who are just good at working with others. While personality is a big part of what makes soft skills effective, there are also soft skills that relate more directly to productivity. For example:

Communication: When a situation is urgent, you need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively. This comes up a lot in healthcare but can be relevant to social work as well. When someone is in crisis, there isn’t time for inefficiency. Information needs to be passed along clearly and as effectively as possible.

Time Management: Time management goes beyond managing not to procrastinate. It’s about how the person manages to juggle tasks in a way that is as efficient as possible. Can you organize and perform your responsibilities in a way that ensures everything gets done well and in as prompt a manner as possible?

Teamwork: Good teamwork requires a combination of hard and soft skills. You need to be able to perform your responsibilities well. You also need to be able to communicate effectively with your team and trust them to do their jobs.

These qualities combine to not only influence patient/caseload outcomes but also shape the overall efficiency of the entire workplace. Teams full of people with great soft skills perform better than those made up of people who lack them.

Can Soft Skills be Taught?

Contrary to common belief, soft skills can be developed. They just be taught in the same step-by-step way that you would learn other professional skills.

There are no manuals saying “Step 1. Smile as you enter the room. Step 2. Nod your head sympathetically as the patient speaks.”

Learning soft skills is more about thinking actively about how you engage with others, and with your work-related responsibilities. Are you approaching your patients/case load with empathy? Do you communicate effectively? Manage your tasks well.

Inevitably, you will find as you consider these points, that there is room for improvement. It’s through the process of honing these skills that you will eventually improve upon them. For most people, this a lifelong process.

You don’t one day perfect your ability to work with a patient. Instead, you learn through time how to do it a little bit better. That adaptability and willingness to improve is, in and of itself, a soft skill.


If you think you have a natural ability to work well with others, you may be well-suited for a career in social work or healthcare. Keep in mind that there are also jobs that blend these responsibilities. Social workers are often paired with people who are experiencing mental health challenges, or other health issues.

Doctors and nurses, meanwhile, come into contact with people from all walks of life. Many of them are eligible for, or actively receiving social work services. Ultimately, both professions hinge on the ability to recognize and meet people’s complete needs at moments of great vulnerability. If that’s somethin

Andrew Deen