The Importance of Empathy in Healthcare

Read many job descriptions and you’ll find a lengthy list of “hard” skills that are required to be able to do the job effectively. But equally as important are “soft” skills. One critical soft skill, especially in the healthcare industry, is empathy. Navigating how to demonstrate empathy during a job interview can be tricky, but not impossible. 

What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills?

Hard skills are the ones you spend the most time on when crafting your resume, especially if you want to ensure that it passes the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) keyword test. Most ATS systems will parse your resume for particular keywords and, if it meets the criteria, it will go to a hiring manager or recruiter for further review. 

Hard skills are often gained through training or career experience. For healthcare professionals, depending on the role, they may include:

  • Medication administration
  • Taking vital signs
  • Patient scheduling
  • Data entry/ Medical Records 
  • EMR experience 

Soft skills, on the other hand, are more like personality traits or behaviors. They are also highly transferable and not limited to just one role. 

Soft skills can include:

  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork 
  • Adaptability
  • Communication

A combination of hard and soft skills are critical for job success and, in healthcare, they are both important for providing a great patient or customer experience.  

Why is Empathy in Healthcare Important?

Empathy is a fundamental skill to have no matter what role you are applying for within a healthcare organization. Your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes can play a big part in achieving an optimal outcome. It is also an important leadership skill and can help you reach the next step in your career path. 

In healthcare, empathy can be defined as having good bedside manner; you might hear it referred to as “clinical empathy.” It is the ability to demonstrate genuine concern and understanding toward your patient to ensure they have a good experience. 

Empathy also helps create connections between colleagues. If a coworker needs help learning a new skill, try to remember a time when you needed someone else’s help and extend that same level of support. Validating someone else’s feelings and asking questions to understand their situation can help them feel more comfortable and strengthen your working relationship. 

How to Demonstrate Empathy in a Job Interview 

Since empathy isn’t a skill you can quantify in your job application or resume, it’s important to use the job interview to your advantage. A common interview question that can help you demonstrate empathy is, “Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work.” On the surface this is a question about problem solving. But think about the emotions involved in the scenario. For example, maybe you were in charge of patient scheduling and your scheduling system went down. The problem solving aspect may be that you scheduled appointments manually until the system came back online. The empathetic aspect is that you were able to communicate to the patients, assure them that you understood their frustration and that the system would be fixed as soon as possible.

A simple way to show empathy during an interview is through your body language. Maintaining eye contact, sitting up straight, and showing a genuine interest in the dialogue can help establish a connection between you and the interviewer. 

How to Build Empathy and Other Soft Skills

Although empathy and other soft skills may be considered personality traits, that doesn’t mean they can’t be learned. Empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ) go hand-in-hand with interpersonal skills such as communication and conflict management. Here are some ways to build empathy and improve your EQ:

  • Listen without interrupting. Wait until the person is finished speaking and ask questions for further clarity. 
  • Ask if the person wants advice or just needs to vent. Not everyone who comes to you with a problem wants you to fix it—sometimes they just need to get it off their chest.
  • Avoid reacting to stress. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to say or do something you might regret later. You can acknowledge your feelings without being controlled by them and, if necessary, you can walk away and come back when you are feeling calmer.
  • Accept constructive criticism. Feedback isn’t an attack on you or your ability; it’s an opportunity for you to improve. Accepting and implementing feedback can improve your work performance and strengthen your relationships with your coworkers. 

As a healthcare professional, your ability to be empathetic toward others is paramount, establishing genuine connections and ensuring the best outcomes for everyone involved.

About Hoag

Hoag Hospital is the highest-ranked hospital in Orange County in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 best hospital rankings. Since 1952, Hoag has served the local communities and continues its mission to provide the highest quality health care services through the core strategies of quality and service, people, physician partnerships, strategic growth, financial stewardship, community benefit and philanthropy.

Hoag is a nonprofit regional health care delivery network in Orange County, California, consisting of two acute-care hospitals, 13 urgent care centers, nine health centers and a network of more than 1,700 physicians, 100 allied health members, 7,000 employees and 2,000 volunteers. More than 30,000 inpatients and 450,000 outpatients choose Hoag each year.