Despite the healthcare sector’s rosy employment outlook, communication skills are emerging as a key factor in career advancement and progression.
By any standard, the healthcare industry has consistently been a bright spot of the U.S. employment marketplace. According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, healthcare employers added 17,000 jobs in November 2011 and have added an average of 27,000 jobs per month to the economy since December 2010.
But the bad news is that almost 10,000 healthcare workers have been displaced snce August, including 136 mass layoffs nationwide.
“Finding work in health-care is definitely getting easier, but the stiff competition means you’ll need more than credentials to land those jobs,” says Stephanie Roberson Barnard, a communications consultant who specializes in training medical professionals to speak and write clearly and effectively.
“Check any online job-hunting Web site for science, technical, pharmaceutical, biotech and medical jobs and you’ll find one common requirement: ‘excellent communication skills,’” writes Barnard and co-author Deborah St. James write in their new book, Listen. Write. Present: The Elements for Communicating Science and Technology (Yale University Press; 2012), www.ListenWritePresent.com.
However, job applicants in the science-heavy healthcare sector are often ill-equipped for the communication skills required by today’s healthcare employment market – many fall short in their ability to craft clear messages for targeted audience, whether those messages are communicated via emails, PowerPoint presentations or other communication mediums.
The problem is that the ability to communicate coherent and strong messaging is a critical factor not only in finding work, but also in retaining healthcare positions and advancing in the medical field.
Barnard and St. James offer the following communication tips for healthcare professionals who are keen on securing employment and/or advancing their medical careers:
Get to know your clients, colleagues and co-workers. Establish rapport and cultivate a collaborative relationship by finding out about others’ interests (check out the pictures in their offices for clues) and inquiring about them. If you have never been to their offices, look them up on Google or the company website and keep your personal conversations light and professional.
Smile, nod, and really focus on what the person is saying rather than simply focusing on the words. Truly effective communication requires your full attention – it’s better to spend a few minutes concentrating on the other person’s message during a conversation than wasting time trying to remember what he or she said because you were trying to do something else. It’s okay to write or type notes as long as you ask permission first.
Practicing is perhaps the most important communication skill for healthcare professionals. Although some people claim that too much practicing makes a talk appear staged, we have found that “stiff” presenters are the ones who haven’t practiced. They’re so busy trying to remember what they want to say that they can’t tune into the audience or deviate from their slides. On the other hand, speakers who have mastered their content seem to glide about the room, exuding just the right amount of enthusiasm.
Respect people’s time by presenting materials simply. The biggest complaint people have about meetings is that they last too long. By presenting your ideas in a simple, concise fashion, you will gain the advantage of appearing focused and prepared. Remember: Never compromise content for simplicity.
It costs nothing and requires no skills to be kind. A kind word, a good deed or a thoughtful gift may even launch a cascade of positive gestures from others. A recent study by researchers from the University of California San Diego and Harvard University suggests that cooperative behavior has a contagious effect, creating a positive impact on the corporate culture of your organization.
“Good leaders must learn to communicate not only within their field of expertise but also to reach people outside their field of authority, influence and passion,” Barnard says. “With proper training and practice anyone can become a better communicator.”