By Elizabeth Exline
Long the domain of empathic and compassionate individuals, healthcare has gotten a lot of love over the past year. (Pandemics will do that.) Now, with the spotlight of public attention trained on the field, the question arises: What exactly does it take to succeed in healthcare today?
Ask this of experts, and you’ll get a variety of answers, but they have one thing in common.
“It’s definitely the soft skills,” says Kelly Price Noble, DHA, MAOM, chair for the College of Health Professions at University of Phoenix (UOPX). Soft skills, she says, are essential to any healthcare position.
“They are human skills, social skills and communication skills,” she says.
According to Jim D’Alfonso, DNP, RN, FAAN, one of the most important of these skills is really more of an attribute. “A strong sense of purpose is the fuel required to successfully navigate the overwhelming stress, sorrow and human suffering that nurses hold space for each day,” he explains.
D’Alfonso currently serves as the executive director for professional excellence with Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, and he is the founding executive director of the KP Nurse Scholars Academy based in Oakland. But he began his career as a diploma nurse graduate in the 1980s, eventually earning his Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from UOPX.
As a result, he has experienced firsthand the healthcare industry’s evolution. And it is from this vantage point that he identifies being “purpose-driven” as a core competency for anyone entering healthcare today. It is, he says, what motivates nurses to “weave both art and science into their clinical care.”
To this, Candice Vaughan Griffin, MS, BSN, RN would add “resiliency.” Vaughan Griffin is the executive director of clinical education and professional development at Banner Health. Business, even beyond healthcare seems to evolve almost daily, she notes. For workers to thrive in a rapidly changing environment, they must “constantly redefine” what they do.
The pandemic made the value of this skill painfully clear. “We all ran up against not having enough staff to care for our patients,” Vaughan Griffin recalls. “We had to create a pretty robust plan for how to upskill workers to care for COVID patients.”
Vaughan Griffin and her colleagues managed to safely upskill 2,300 clinical staff and onboard an additional 3,000 to respond to the crisis. And while those workers had to be agile, resiliency is a quality rooted in reciprocity. Professions, Vaughan Griffin says, must be as agile as their workforce. They need to provide opportunities for curiosity, growth and advancement among their staff, and the staff needs to engage to stay on top of both industry demands and information.
Communication is one of those hard-to-quantify but indispensable skills valued by pretty much every industry in the world. In healthcare, being able to communicate with a certain level of emotional intelligence (aka emotional quotient, or EQ) is as important as being able to diagnose an illness.
Price Noble has witnessed this with her own parents. As a physician facing a chronic health condition, Price Noble’s father has been in and out of hospitals and clinics in recent years.
“Empathy can begin at check-in,” Price Noble explains. “Any type of empathy can help calm people and show that you are interested. It also shows in health outcomes.”
Good communication can range from making eye contact while listening to patients as they discuss their concerns, to avoiding digital distractions. “It’s not a career attribute to be able to FaceTime or TikTok or whatever,” Price Noble quips.
Not only does emotional intelligence improve bedside manner, Vaughan Griffin points out, but it also allows medical providers to advocate effectively for their patients.
“If I could wave a magic wand,” she says, “that would be the skill nursing graduates enter the workforce with.”
The idea of self-care is often erroneously distilled to an excuse to overindulge or get a massage. But D’Alfonso says that true self-care — the routine integration of healthful approaches that support resiliency — is essential for nurses and healthcare providers today.
Healthcare providers often work high-stress jobs day in, day out. “Self-care is no longer a mere strategy to prevent burnout,” D’Alfonso explains. “It is the primary instrument for counteracting the debilitating effects of long-term stress and enabling sustained full engagement.”
There are other advantages too. Healthcare workers who embrace self-care, D’Alfonso says, often bring that to the table when treating patients. And that has real benefits for patients. Mainstream holistic practices complement traditional medicine and can enhance treatment outcomes, D’Alfonso says.
“As nurses explore nursing interventions beyond the limitations of medical diagnosis, pathology and invasive procedures, they begin to embrace healing nurturing modalities that are evidence-based, noninvasive and safe,” he says. These might be anything from meditation and conscious breathing to healing touch and aromatherapy, he adds.
Being open to concepts like holistic medicine speaks to a natural curiosity that more and more healthcare providers need to have. It is a lifelong learning mindset that is critical to continued success in the field, says Vaughan Griffin.
By way of example, she offers up this nugget of information from Dr. Peter Densen: Medical knowledge in healthcare doubles approximately every 73 days. Add that to evolving workforce expectations — and the fact that five generations are currently present in that workforce — the need to seek out learning opportunities becomes paramount. “That is why we have to constantly be those lifelong learners,” Vaughan Griffin says. “You have to keep up.”
She appreciates offerings like professional development courses and badging, which allow workers to upskill quickly and efficiently. D’Alfonso takes this a step further, pointing out that nurses must also be early, agile adopters of technology. This mindset, he says, can spell the difference between expediting or thwarting critical advancements in the field.
Telemedicine is one example virtually everyone is familiar with because of COVID-19. It is something, Price Noble says, that enables providers to offer quality care at an accelerated pace. But it can come at a cost.
D’Alfonso points out, “Only a nurse can ensure high-tech is balanced with high-touch human caring essentials.”
Price Noble puts it more bluntly. “Focus on the patient!” she exclaims.
Healthcare providers need to balance innovation with intuition, technology with human touch, medicine with holistic well-being. It is a tall order, yes. But it is what’s at the heart of healthcare today. As Price Noble says to prospective healthcare providers, “To go into healthcare, you really need to think about who you are.”
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