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Table of Contents
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 67-69

Soft skills in physical therapy profession: Need of the hour

Department of Orthopaedic Manual Therapy, KAHER Institute of Physiotherapy, Belagavi, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission12-Nov-2021
Date of Decision09-Dec-2021
Date of Acceptance17-Dec-2021
Date of Web Publication12-Jan-2022

Correspondence Address:
Pamela Virgil D'Silva
Department of Orthopaedic Manual Therapy, KAHER Institute of Physiotherapy, Belagavi, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijptr.ijptr_77_21

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How to cite this article:
Metgud S, D'Silva PV. Soft skills in physical therapy profession: Need of the hour. Indian J Phys Ther Res 2021;3:67-9

How to cite this URL:
Metgud S, D'Silva PV. Soft skills in physical therapy profession: Need of the hour. Indian J Phys Ther Res [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Jun 6];3:67-9. Available from: https://www.ijptr.org/text.asp?2021/3/2/69/335674

As the phrase in business goes, “Hard skills may get you hired but the absence of soft skills gets you fired.” This editorial focuses on the importance of understanding and development of soft skills in health-care education with an emphasis on physiotherapy profession.

The health-care industry is predicted to increase at a growth rate of 2.6% by 2022, adding 5 million jobs as per the Bureau of Labor.[1] Studies have identified the limited availability of skilled professionals as one of the major risks for a stable health-care system.[2],[3],[4] A skilled professional seeks continuous growth to be at par with international standards. However, well-trained professionals are deficient in most parts of the globe. One of the modifiable factors that may enhance the productivity and number of skilled professionals is the induction of soft skills in health-care education.

Health-care education, in line with other professional courses, has its core centered on teaching and honing technical skills which are directly proportional to delivering qualified physical therapists, nurses, etc., and influence patient outcomes. A skilled health-care professional is required to have two prime subsets – technical skills/hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are defined as teachable abilities that are easily quantified. Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective and less tangible with multifaceted components. Broadly soft skills can be categorized into – attitude, communication, and etiquette.[5],[6]

The term soft skills have its initial mention in the work published by Whitmore and Fry in 1972 that includes human interactions, work ethics, and professionalism.[7] Over the years, the term has gained popularity and refinement and is considered for performance-based upgrades in the information technology and business sector. Health-care literature states that the crux of patient compliance is based on the inculcation of soft skills in a day-to-day practice. Unfortunately, with the paradigm shift in health-care education and advancement in teaching technologies such as artificial intelligence-based education, simulation laboratories, and online teaching in view of the present pandemic, strategies on the enhancement of soft skills in health care and human-centered approach have taken a back seat.

  Why are Soft Skills Important? Top

Soft skills are the lingua franca that enhances a human-centered approach to communication by expediting understanding between patients and health-care professionals at a higher level. They are considered the stronghold pillars necessary to add the impact of hard skills across all disciplines of health care. Leadership, team building at the workplace, and emotional intelligence are vital aspects of soft skills.[8]

Physical therapy is a health-care profession that entails conducting in-depth assessments and designing structured rehabilitation protocols across all ages. Assessments are based on sound knowledge of the human body, understanding the disease process and skillful application of functional outcome measures. Individualized rehabilitation is built on the basis of good motor skills for delivering an array of treatment approaches such as manual therapy, patient supervision during exercise testing and prescription, and expertise in the use of electrotherapeutic modalities at various phases of recovery. Rehabilitation of physical function is a long-term process, and patients addressed with soft skills such as empathy exhibit adherence to ongoing rehabilitation. Evidence states that incorporation of patient values, empathy, and patient experiences plays a crucial role in rehabilitation compliance and recovery. With the advent of outcome-based curriculum and its adaptation in the Indian health-care education, there is extensive scope for the genesis of the physiotherapy profession in the area of soft skill development.

  Closing the Gap of Soft Skills in Physical Therapy Top

In a multicultural, multireligious, and multiethnic country such as India, soft skills play a critical role in developing a rapport with patients. Understanding attitudes and beliefs, respecting cultural and religious differences, and the ability to communicate with people speaking in different vernacular languages will help in obtaining optimal results.[9],[10] Physical therapy profession has adopted seven core values – accountability, altruism, compassion/caring, excellence, integrity, professional duty, and social responsibility in American Physical Therapy Association's education strategic plan, which forms a basis for optimizing human-centered approach.[11] Strategies that may be adapted in physical therapy education at the undergraduate level consist of competence assessment, personality assessment tests, mentoring or coaching, and simulation-based programs such as role-playing, case studies, and auditing.[12]

  Attitude Top

A positive attitude is an absolute necessity in health care as it reciprocates patient response and job performance. An optimistic attitude is reported to increase the probability of consistent outcomes, minimize stress levels, and be more constructive in difficult circumstances: [13]

  • Improve professionalism, reputation, training, and expertise
  • Be optimistic and have a positive attitude
  • Be confident, approachable, warm, and relaxed during a clinical meet
  • Use positive messages associated with treatment such as pain relief
  • Consider the age, gender, and background of the patient
  • Boost patients' willingness to converse with patients undergoing similar treatments.

  Communication Top

In physiotherapy, communication refers to the ability to establish a trustworthy, healthy patient–therapist relation and provide guidance throughout rehabilitation. There are two aspects – verbal and nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is inherent in physical therapy and potentiates the physiotherapist's ability in building a therapeutic relationship, designing and modifying the treatment, and overcoming challenging situations. This impacts the overall rehabilitation in a positive or negative manner: [14]

  • Deliver clear diagnosis, prognosis, and explanation in simple language
  • Explore the disease process and seek patients' expectations in the recovery phase
  • Use empathy, support, and language reciprocity
  • Make eye contact, express care and concern, and show interest/attentiveness during the conversation
  • Interpret nonverbal communication signs and body language
  • Explain the treatment approaches applied to the patient and answer queries.

  Etiquette Top

Professional etiquette is characterized by appearance, behavior, and relations one maintains with patients, colleagues, and society. In a health-care system, the tone of interaction needs to be set in order to maintain ethical practice:

  • Maintain professional etiquette throughout the treatment session and be cordial
  • Use a formal dress code
  • Maintain personal and treatment environment hygiene
  • Be punctual and give adequate time for treatment sessions.[15],[16]

Health-care professionals encounter patients from neonatal to geriatric age groups. The manner of interaction along with attitude and communication delivers the right impression to the patients. Evidence states that health-care professionalism is mandatory in clinical practice, and patient confidentiality, professional presentation, teamwork, receptive attitude, and work ethic are included as some of its aspects to consider.[17],[18]

Understanding the concept of soft skill and its application across domains is the need of the hour, health care being a prime requisite. High level of competition in securing the best career prospects available necessitates mastering essential soft skills that would set one apart and act as a forerunner in maintaining a competitive edge. Strategies on soft skill development adopted in the fundamental years of professional courses promise a humane tomorrow.

  References Top

ExploreHealthCareers.org; 2021. Available from: https://explorehealthcareers.org/. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 16].  Back to cited text no. 1
Special Edition on e-Learning. The Importance of Continuous Education in Healthcare. 2017;17.  Back to cited text no. 2
Dussault G, Franceschini MC. Not enough there, too many here: Understanding geographical imbalances in the distribution of the health workforce. Hum Resour Health 2006;4:12.  Back to cited text no. 3
Karan A, Negandhi H, Hussain S, Zapata T, Mairembam D, De Graeve H, et al. Size, composition and distribution of health workforce in India: Why, and where to invest? Hum Resour Health 2021;19:39.  Back to cited text no. 4
Windsor C, Douglas C, Harvey T. Nursing and competencies – A natural fit: The politics of skill/competency formation in nursing. Nurs Inq 2012;19:213-22.  Back to cited text no. 5
Ramesh G, Ramesh M. In: Rutherford E, editor. The ACE of Soft Skills. 2013: Prentice Hall PTR; USA.  Back to cited text no. 6
Majluf N. In: Lepeley MT, Beutell NJ, Abarca N, editors. Soft Skills for Human Centered Management and Global Sustainability. USA: Routledge; 2021.  Back to cited text no. 7
AbuJbara NA, Worley JA. Leading toward new horizons with soft skills. In: On the Horizon: The Strategic Planning Resource for Education Professionals. 2018;26:247-59.  Back to cited text no. 8
Communication – An Essential Tool in Extraordinary Times – ProQuest. Proquest.com; 2021. Available from: https://www.proquest.com/openview. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 16].  Back to cited text no. 9
Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Health Professions Education Summit. The core competencies needed for health care professionals. In: Greiner AC, Knebel E, editors. Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality. Ch. 3. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2003. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221519/. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 16].  Back to cited text no. 10
McGinnis PQ, Guenther LA, Wainwright SF. Development and integration of professional core values among practicing clinicians. Phys Ther 2016;96:1417-29.  Back to cited text no. 11
Lisa Davila R. An Absence of Essential Skills in the Current Healthcare Landscape. Pharmacy Times; 2021. Available from: https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/an-absence-of-essential-skills-in-the-current-healthcare-landscape. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 16].  Back to cited text no. 12
Challenges in Managing the Human Workforce at Hospitals P, Creating a Safe Work Place P, Impact M. Attitude for Healthcare Professionals | Hospital and Patient Relationship. Frontenders Blog; 2021. Available from: https://www.frontenders.in/blog/importance-of-attitude-for-healthcare-professionals.html. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 16].  Back to cited text no. 13
Good C. The Role and Impact of Body Communication in Private Practice Physiotherapy. 2020: Doctoral dissertation, Auckland University of Technology; USA.  Back to cited text no. 14
Testa M, Rossettini G. Enhance placebo, avoid nocebo: How contextual factors affect physiotherapy outcomes. Man Ther 2016;24:65-74.  Back to cited text no. 15
Bright AF, Cummins C, Waterworth K, Gibson BE, Larmer P. Physiotherapy students' conceptualisations of clinical communication: A call to revisit communication in physiotherapy education. OpenPhysio 2018;1-10. [doi: 10.14426/art/509].  Back to cited text no. 16
Professional Etiquette in Health Care Facilities – Clipboard Health. Clipboard Health; 2021. Available from: https://clipboardhealth.com/kb/professional-etiquette-in-health-care-facilities. [Last accessed on 2021 Dec 20].  Back to cited text no. 17
Bastemeijer CM, van Ewijk JP, Hazelzet JA, Voogt LP. Patient values in physiotherapy practice, a qualitative study. Physiother Res Int 2021;26:e1877.  Back to cited text no. 18


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