The Case for Non-Technical Skills in Healthcare

Last Updated: 14 August 2022

Join the 100,000s of health professionals who subscribe to The Handover

Though it may not seem like it, non-technical skills are everywhere in healthcare: when you’re conversing with a patient, when you’re explaining diagnoses to families, when you’re collaborating with an interprofessional care team, or even when you’re navigating toxicity amongst colleagues.

While technical skills – also known as ‘hard skills', such as reading a patient’s chart or logging incident details – are essential to the function of healthcare services, non-technical skills are a key element of empathetic, patient-focused care.

So what are non-technical skills, especially in a technical field such as healthcare? And how can you improve them?

What are non-technical skills?

Non-technical skills – also referred to as ‘non-technical skills’ – are interpersonal skills and character traits that are relevant to every profession, regardless of industry. Technical skills, on the other hand, are specific technical abilities that are more specialised to a certain profession or task, such as coding or speaking a second language.

Some non-technical skills are inherently part of working in healthcare: it’s almost impossible to work in healthcare and not passively develop a strong sense of empathy in the face of patients' experiences.

However, many non-technical skills cannot be developed passively: they are skills rather than pre-existing elements of one’s personality or working persona. These can include teamwork, time management, stress reduction and effective communication.

Why are non-technical skills important in healthcare?

A healthcare professional’s non-technical skills affect everyone they interact with, especially patients and their loved ones who rely upon effective, efficient and empathetic communication from you about complex issues they are usually unfamiliar with.

Aside from providing patients with an empathetic care journey, healthcare professionals need to match their colleagues with skills and traits that enhance the workplace and make it easier to provide great care. For example, team leaders and managers must have great communication skills in order to keep their colleagues up to speed regarding regulatory changes or workplace updates, and recent graduates must have the incentive to learn how to work as a team. Intra-team dynamics are built upon every team member playing their ‘non-technical skills’ role.

Every member of staff in a healthcare setting has a responsibility to learn, update and share their non-technical skills in order to make healthcare as welcoming and efficient as possible.

How can you learn healthcare-based non-technical skills?

Identify which non-technical skills you need to develop

If you’re a great communicator and always keep your team and patients up to date, you probably don’t need to work on communication. However, you might not be as confident when it comes to time management, so that’s what you should focus on.

Gather as much feedback as you can

Ask your direct manager what they think you should be working on; if you’re aligned, ask them what you’re doing now and what they would like to see you doing differently in the future. For example, they agree that you need to work on time management and they would like you to confidently coordinate breaks with your colleagues within the next month.

Complete online education

When you complete exercises or engage in simulations that directly relate to your own knowledge gaps, you’re giving yourself the best chance of learning in a way that will easily translate to your practice. Ausmed provides a wide range of non-technical skills-based resources, which you can browse in our Professional Growth and Management and Leadership learning hubs.

Narrow the theory-practice gap

You can do this by revisiting your manager and asking them to asses how you apply your learning to your work. The theory-practice gap occurs when professionals struggle to apply something they’ve learnt to their actual practice: a great way to minimise this gap is by having a manager watch and provide feedback when you first apply this new knowledge, thereby acting as a bridge.

What else can you learn?

At Ausmed, we aim to provide all healthcare professionals with learning resources that cover all aspects of healthcare – including the development of non-technical skills.

Have a look at these resources, and complete them as part of your CPD:

To see a wider variety of resources pertaining to professional skills, browse Ausmed’s Professional Growth Learning Hub.

To receive articles about learning theories, guides to CPD and the Australian healthcare industry, subscribe to The Handover’s weekly newsletter! It will arrive in your inbox every Saturday morning.

Join the 100,000s of health professionals who subscribe to The Handover

Subscribe to The Handover

Everything you need to know, every Saturday morning