Dr Andrea Giraldez-Hayes
Soft-skills facilitator

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Technical and professional skills are only part of the story if you are a doctor. You can dramatically improve the quality of your personal and professional life as well as the quality of your work by developing a set of core soft skills. I know if you are a doctor you may be thinking you are too busy to add something to your diary, but at the end of the day the time invested will have been worthwhile.

The NHS Trust Professional Support Unit (PSU) knows what can happen when doctors don’t use and develop soft skills. A key issue in the profession is burn out due to stress and overwork.

As part of their support to doctors newly arriving to practice in the UK the PSU included an afternoon devoted to raising awareness of soft skills whilst the morning focused on what to expect when practising in the UK. The aim was to provide a time and space to understand in particular Mindfulness, Empathy and Resilience. These are three of the personal attributes at your fingertips that can influence and enhance the way you communicate and relate to patients, colleagues and families. They also play a key role for any doctor’s career prospects,  job performance, wellbeing and quality of life.  I was delighted to be one of the Unimenta trainers running these pilot workshops for the first time with small groups of doctors.

We know being a doctor is stressful and requires focus as any distraction could be fatal. With this idea in mind, the first workshop aimed to develop some Mindfulness skills that they could practice on a daily basis. They were all simple skills that do not take more than five minutes and can bring a massive benefit.

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Patients seek Empathy from their doctors, and clinical empathy (Halpern, 2003) is a must. As defined by a leading group from the Society for General Internal Medicine, empathy is “the act of correctly acknowledging the emotional state of another without experiencing that state oneself”. In our Empathy workshop, doctors learnt to define empathy and to put themselves in their patients’ shoes without fully experiencing the suffering of each patient. In this respect, empathy was described as a cognitive skill, contrasting it with sympathy.

Finally, we know doctors need to be highly Resilient to be with the pressures they face. Maybe this is one of the reasons that explain why research identifies doctors as a high-risk group for stress-related harm and also shows the pressures they face on a daily base. Doctors can find themselves overwhelmed by increasing demands or exhausted and dipping in their mood, morale or energy. This was taking into account to choose both the Mindfulness and the Resilience workshops. In the last one, the aim was to raise awareness and to find simple tips to boost resilience.

Outcomes

All participants found the day extremely useful, and this is what some of them said in their feedback:

1) What did you enjoy most about these afternoon sessions?

  • The interactive approach in all three sessions was very well thought through, and I enjoyed being a part of it.
  • Relevance to my clinical work
  • It was interactive and fun!
  • I particularly enjoyed the mindfulness session. I enjoyed the interaction
  • Helped us to get into a relaxed mindset and understand the importance of these factors in everyday life.

2) To what extent do you feel you learned some useful techniques to help you? (5 stars being the highest and 1 star the lowest)

90% of respondents scored 5 stars, and 10% scored 4 stars.

3) How critical are the skills in your day-to-day work?

Most of the participants scored these skills as very important or essential.

We at Unimenta are delighted with these results in mind and we have been asked to return to run a second workshop in Autumn 2018.

 

References

Halpern, J. (2003). What is Clinical Empathy? Journal of General Internal Medicine, 18(8), 670-674. Recovered from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1494899

Markakis K., Frankel R., Beckman H., Suchman, A. (1999). Teaching empathy: it can be done. Working paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, San Francisco, Calif, April 29–May 1.

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