soft skills for doctors

The soft skills your patients expect you to have

Why is this relevant for medical marketing? Medical websites – so it turns out when we look at our research data – are as much about the human being who will perform the treatment, as they are about symptoms, surgeries and recovery. 

soft skills for doctors

The soft skills your patients expect you to have

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

May 30, 2022

Why soft skills are actually income earners

soft doctor skills

As a doctor with a business hat – a specialist in private practice – you may think that your business development is about patient numbers. In a way, it is, and we have published a remarkable series of articles to help you set up and nurture an online presence that brings in patients by making you visible in Google Search

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Communication skills, the ability to be vulnerable as a doctor, and the capacity to show compassion when you deal with patients, are often described as soft skills. In the work we do, they are hard currency because they are the topic of many Google reviews doctors get. And that means they are pivotal for patients who are about to choose a doctor."

Soft skills for doctors all revolve around compassion and communication.

Let’s unpack them and look at their impact on your online reputation. The part we’re particularly interested in here at Digital Practice is the use of your strengths in that area to build a profile that stretches beyond your qualifications and experience. 

Emotional fitness and flexibility

bedside manners

If you run a private practice, the term ‘bedside manners’ is probably a bit old-fashioned and does not really cover the emotional skills for doctors that we’re talking about. Emotional fitness is your capacity to be fully present when you engage with a patient. 

  • Via email or over the phone, in person or through the staff that you employ. Remember that even if I speak to your receptionist as a patient, my experience of your practice is defined by that person’s attitude, communication skills and emotional fitness.
  • During a consultation
  • In between consultations, in emails, follow-up telehealth consultations or reports
  • Before and after surgery if applicable


The patient experiences an emotionally fit and flexible doctor when:

  • There is eye contact
  • There is a genuine smile or acknowledgement of the patient as a human being
  • There is a high level of presence and the doctor is not interrupted by devices and messages, incoming phone calls or texts, internal conversations about other patients and office logistics.
  • There is an acknowledgement or an apology if the wait took longer than expected


The emotional flexibility comes in when you – as a doctor – are able to adapt to different personality types. This is something that is not taught in medical school nor in any other university setting. It is probably why it is easily stowed away under soft skills and never really placed high on the agenda when someone builds a private practice brand.

The good news is that our customers, having chosen to become thought leaders in their niche, all have an amazing sense of emotional fitness simply because they consider it part of their brand positioning as a doctor.

Soft skills for doctors

Compassion and trust in a medical practice

compassion as a doctor

We focus on clinical and surgical skills, diagnostic accuracy and customer service. The underlying layer of emotional skills for doctors is essential too. After all, a patient trusts you to have a conversation that may be painful or difficult. The patient trusts your judgement to make joint decisions, with you being the expert and the patient being uninformed about what is going on. 

Trust is another soft element in the world of science, medicine and the healthcare system. With private health care bringing an element of choice to the patient, we want to be aware of this unique currency at all times because it turns out to be one of the key drivers when a patient makes a choice.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Trust is not just about where you got your degree, how long you have been a surgeon or the hospital you are associated with. Trust is that basic instinctive feeling people experience or not. Trust is about being able to rely on the choice and knowing that it will be the best choice one can make as a patient."

So what does the patient actually want? The best outcome, whether it’s surgical or clinical, elective or life-threatening. Quite often, and specifically in more elective situations, the patient wants to feel that you care

The words healthcare and care are so overused that I prefer to call them compassion. As a patient, you want to know that this other person in that important role actually cares. Compassion as a doctor comes in different shapes but here’s a checklist I like to use.

How can you use the currencies of trust and compassion in your clinic?

  • Describe what you stand for: If your strength in this area is to be a good listener and to abstain from judging, highlight it in your communication. Then deliver on that promise.
  • State your interest and your why: If you have a particular interest in improving outcomes or treatment journeys, talk about it in your online communication. Make patients aware of that passion, in case you are not always in a position to inject it in every consultation. Capture it on video when you are totally relaxed and in flow and make sure every potential new patient has felt your passion or particular interest before they see you.
  • Train the team: Don’t assume that everyone shares this compassion by adding it to their employment agreement. Have regular conversations about what it means and if possible, introduce it to your company values as a private health practice.

Becoming an expert in clarity

clear medical communication

When people see their doctor, they expect clarity. What you think is clear, is often unclear for the patient who is not a doctor. The service delivery can not be compared to selling bread, servicing a car or picking up a bottle of wine, where we purchase the process and the work, not the intellectual complexity of the service. With you – as a doctor – it’s different. 

The patient buys your complexity but wants it simplified.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"General communication skills as a doctor involve clear medical communication at all times. Making the treatment transparent, and communicating about the emotional impact of a diagnosis or prognosis, are part of what the patient sees as the service experience."

How can you use the currency of clarity in your clinic?  

  • Online: It starts with the connection or the disconnect between the patient’s questions and what they google for, and your information. At Digital Practice, we have built a unique system to connect your medical website content to the essential searches that patients do, in almost any medical niche and subspecialty. It is the subject of patient search behaviour analysis and the medical SEO and content marketing work that we do.
  • During consultations: Aiming for clarity is not just for the benefit of the patient. And it’s also not just to get more positive reviews being lauded as the best communicator in town for your medical specialty. You are doing a favour to your entire team because more clarity means fewer phone calls, less friction and more efficiency across all divisions of your practice.
  • On the phone: Again, training your entire team to really communicate clearly is a great investment in your practice. Energy, clearly articulated speech, and overall clarity when your receptionist speaks to a patient over the phone or sends an email, are all rewarded when your practice simply runs smoothly, avoiding errors and frustration on either end.

The elephant in the room: vulnerability

vulnerability as a doctor

Vulnerability as a doctor is a relatively new concept. Created as a prestigious elite profession, the role of a specialist doctor has an ivory tower reputation for many patients. Emotional skills for doctors include the art of being vulnerable at the right moment and firm, decisive and doubtless at other times. 

Agreed, you have the intelligence, perseverance and ethic of hard work to be where you are. But the same might apply to the opera star you are treating tomorrow, the footie player you are operating on, the leading politician you are helping when she delivers her baby.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Vulnerability is the ability to show your true self, including the doubts, uncertainty and how that makes you feel. In healthcare, it turns out to be more difficult than anywhere else because the patient, society, science and the medical authorities expect there to be no doubt, only choices based on facts, science and data."

You can probably see why it’s not good advice to be super vulnerable from today onwards, all the time. Tearing up at the prospect of another hip replacement, giving awkward hugs to anyone who signs up for a gastric sleeve or stating that you really doubt yourself every time you prepare to scrub…it won’t help you build your practice. 

Vulnerability in general is an attitude that needs a subtle approach in healthcare. Sharing a personal story won’t harm you. Sharing how you feel about outcomes and expectations and also providing enough reassuring information about the steps you are planning for this patient, is an act of balance. I have seen amazing demonstrations by doctors when they just naturally switched between leadership and vulnerability and in the long run, it’s one of the absolute x -factors a doctor can use to stand out from the pack.

Let's meet

Ready to communicate as the real you?

reputation management for doctors

Soft skills for doctors are becoming more important as part of your brand story. Our customers like to see us as their partner in reputation management for doctors. And that ties in with marketing your practice and generating more GP referrals and direct patient leads.

And if you want to get a taste of how that could help you build a stronger private practice, book a free 1:1 Strategy Session

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