Since my son will be attending the University of Chicago in the fall, I had the opportunity to sit in on the incoming student forum. This is a high powered academic liberal arts college with several heavy duty graduate programs.
The first two sessions were about pre-med and business/economics. By the way, they don’t actually call it pre-med anymore, now it’s pre-health. The department chair elaborated that many of the students use the undergraduate education to go into other health fields, such as dentistry or veterinary medicine. Nothing about chiropractic education, but that’s a topic for a future blog post!
I was expecting a treatise about the academic rigors and opportunities of these two demanding pathways. Instead, I got a much more expansive and evolved picture of what they are developing and what the future pathways hold for these graduates.
They both spoke extensively about the critical development of the “soft skills” in both health care and in business/economics. Soft skills include many of the things we work on extensively with clients, and are major differentiators in clinical practice. Much of this work is derived from Daniel Goleman’s writings on Emotional Intelligence. There are many ways to parse this, but the major categories are:
- Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and use one’s own emotional state during decision making.
- Self-management: the ability to guide or control one’s own emotions and impulses and to adapt to changing conditions.
- Social awareness: the ability to understand, respond to and utilize other people’s emotions in the context of a social and cultural framework.
- Relationship management: the ability to influence, guide, and motivate others, and to be able to artfully manage conflict.
It’s interesting that these concepts have been derided as pop psychology, but major academic, career oriented universities are treating them as critical skill sets. The chair of the business school made the point that he does not like calling them soft skills, because that implies that they are easy to obtain and are not as important. That’s not the case!
In clinical practice I believe these skill sets are best applied to tow major areas: patient communications and staff communications. These are both forms of relationship management, and can greatly enhance the doctor’s clinical skills when well developed and applied.
For patient communications, a basic concept to develop is the idea of enrollment. Enrollment in this context means creating a better future with your patient than would happen otherwise. There is mutual benefit in a healthy enrollment situation. A simple place to start is the idea that you have a longer time horizon then the patient usually does. A patient in distress typically has a very short time horizon: make the pain stop now!
The doctor can have a longer time horizon: what’s the best long-term pathway for your overall situation, not just the area or problem that caused you to seek care to begin with? If you can handle their immediate, pressing concerns, but also provide a platform for greater long term benefit, you are providing a higher level of service, and will be a greater contributor to the overall health of your community.
For staff communications, the basic concept to develop is that the staff is an integral part of the healing process, whether or not they ever touch the patient. They are not just supporting the doctor, they are active participants in that sick patient getting well. All of your administrative personnel have an impact on the patient’s perception of the overall service, for the better or the worse. Believing that their actions have a direct impact on the healing process makes all staff members more attuned to the needs of the patients, and more interested in serving patients in the most thorough way they can.
Developing higher levels of social/emotional consciousness and more effective communication skills is a tough challenge for some. I know it is for me; it’s really a life-long master practice. If you find yourself lagging in this area, remember that even small improvements can have a massive leverage effect on the rest of your efforts, so it’s worth the effort.