Six Soft Skills in Healthcare

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A smiling nurse talks with a patient.Nurses spend their days administering care, documenting interactions in electronic health records, and communicating with patients, families, and other caregivers. To perform all their duties successfully, they need emotional intelligence (EI) and soft skills — including teamwork, empathy, and effective communication — to encourage interpersonal connections and promote patient healing.

For nurse leaders, understanding and implementing EI and soft skills are vital to educating the next generation of health care providers. Research shows that effective communication, particularly among patients, nurses, and doctors, is key to improved safety and quality in health care facilities. Nursing soft skills and EI skills are vital components of student success in the classroom and in clinical care.

For RNs interested in pursuing education beyond a master’s who want to develop better soft skills in health care, a post-master’s certificate can offer expertise in an area such as nurse education, executive nurse leadership, or adult-gerontology acute care.

The Connection Between Emotional Intelligence and Soft Skills

The term “emotional intelligence” was first coined in 1964 by clinical psychologist Michael Beldoch and popularized in 1994 by Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence — Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

In his book, Goleman says emotions are central to human intelligence and play a major role in decision-making, thoughts, and success. The National Soft Skills Association, which disseminates research on soft skills, said EI skills form the foundation for soft skills competencies.

As such, there are strong connections between EI attributes and life skills, including:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to understand your internal state, preferences, and intuitions to recognize how your emotions affect other people and your self-esteem
  • Self-management (or self-regulation): The ability to regulate your internal conflicts and impulses for emotional self-control, optimism, and adaptability
  • Social awareness: The awareness and active concern for other people’s emotions, needs, and feelings
  • Relationship management: The ability to use your emotions to manage interactions and prompt desirable responses from others

Soft Skills in Nursing

American Nurse, the official journal of the American Nurses Association (ANA), said nurse leaders must foster soft skills in health care to be effective. For nurses working in the education sector, soft skills influence top-down leadership teams, board members, students, parents and the community. In a health care setting, soft skills in nursing impact the employee, employer, interdisciplinary teams, families, patients and communities.

The ANA, using the U.S. Department of Labor’s top six soft skills, demonstrated how soft skills correlate directly with nursing practice.

1. Communication

Application to nursing practice:

  • Improving patient and staff satisfaction
  • Creating an open environment that encourages improvements

2. Enthusiasm/Positive Outlook

Application to nursing practice:

  • Improving patient and staff satisfaction
  • Creating an open environment that encourages improvements

3. Teamwork

Application to nursing practice:

  • Improving interdisciplinary patient care teams
  • Increasing efficiency
  • Expanding staff and patient satisfaction

4. Networking

Application to nursing practice:

  • Supporting and enhancing professional connections

5. Problem-Solving/Critical Thinking

Application to nursing practice:

  • Providing safe and competent care while handling patients with multiple chronic illnesses and fast-paced changes in the health care field

6. Professionalism

Application to nursing practice:

  • Upholding professional integrity
  • Maintaining professional licensure
  • Promoting public trust in the profession

In addition, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) defines specific skills as essential to creating and sustaining positive health care environments, and these skills align with the ANA’s list of soft skills. The AACN’s skilled communicator corresponds with the ANA’s effective communicator; meaningful recognition aligns with enthusiasm and a positive attitude; true collaboration means teamwork and networking; effective decision-making encompasses problem-solving and critical thinking, and authentic leadership is represented by professionalism and integrity.

A professional health care provider should always strive to refine their understanding of these soft skills in nursing and how to employ them in a clinical, academic, or office setting.

Soft Skills for Nurse Educators

Nurse educators must be prepared to teach soft skills through words, actions, and examples. While keeping hard skills (including skills in pharmacology, care plans, and clinical rotations) at the forefront of education, educators must remember the importance of EI and soft skills.

These skills are crucial to fostering safe care environments and collaborative health care teams. Nurse educators should rely on their own soft skills to help new nurses develop theirs: being approachable, including adjusting facial expressions and body language to show openness; practicing active listening, to hear nurses’ concerns; and welcoming collaboration, to share information and responsibility.

When nurse educators provide a supportive learning experience for novice nurses, they foster a positive environment that can contribute to high-quality patient care and can help minimize nurse burnout and increase retention.

Advance Your Post-Master’s Nursing Education

Nurses interested in leadership roles must consider the concepts behind EI and nursing soft skills, and how they relate to health care. Duquesne University’s School of Nursing provides a concentrated educational experience that encompasses hard and soft skills. Our post-master’s nursing certificates provide opportunities to specialize as an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, or psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, or to develop expertise in executive nurse leadership and health care management, forensic nursing, or the nurse education and faculty role.

With coursework that prepares students for certification examinations, Duquesne’s online post-master’s certificate program can open doors of opportunity for nurses who are ready for a new challenge. Decide which post-master’s certificate is right for you and take a step toward your future.

Recommended Reading

Nine Leadership Qualities in Nursing

How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

LGBTQ Health Disparities and How Nurses Can Help


American Nurse, “Fostering Soft Skills Is a Must for Nurse Leaders”

Elsevier, “The Importance of ‘Soft’ Skills in Nursing & Healthcare Professions”

Health Leaders, “Soft Skills that Deliver Hard Results”

HealthStream, “The Importance of Soft Skills in Healthcare”

Indeed, “5 Must-Have Skills For Your Nursing Resume”

U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills”

Wolters Kluwer, “Fostering Soft Skills Among New Nurses”