What Skills Should Medical Professionals Be Developing For The Future?

The life of a medic has never been easy, but we appear to be adrift in an unusually challenging period today. With a global shortage of practitioners and a host of radical shifts occurring in how medicine is both perceived and administered, medical professionals are now expected to possess an extraordinary array of skills beyond their core competency.

Rather than being overwhelmed, however, it is entirely possible for medics to take control of the situation and pre-emptively develop the skills they will inevitably require in the coming years.

1. Technological competence

According to a recent report from Accenture, 85% of health executives believe technology has become an inextricable part of the life of a medic. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: new technologies are emerging all the time which fundamentally alter the nature of care and demand a new kind of competency from practitioners.

Recent advances are extraordinarily powerful – from 3D printing and AI to the improving infrastructure for e-health. They promise improved outcomes, increased efficiency and exciting new avenues for research. However, all of this will be useless without a medical workforce capable of keeping pace and making use of these innovations.

Younger practitioners are almost inevitably more comfortable with and knowledgeable about digital technology, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily ready for the future. Medics of all kinds should be proactive about embracing the new world of technology and healthcare apps – regardless of how confident they are in their existing skills.

What you can do today: Begin by learning as much as you can about current and future trends – what is available and what is being developed; this will give you an inherent advantage. Beyond that, being proactive in developing comfort and competence with new tools and equipment will be a strong differentiator and ensure you can make the most of it when the time comes.

2. Mental flexibility

The emotional resilience and mental flexibility shown by the medical community during the COVID-19 pandemic has been staggering. And in the future, these skills will only become more vital, as change accelerates and pressure is put on practitioners to produce better and better results.

Developing new skills, learning to attend to new illnesses and generally responding effectively to change are going to be a central skill of all the best medical professionals in the future, and each of them fundamentally requires a level of mental flexibility few other professions demand.

It’s easy to think of mental flexibility as a fixed quality, but like most skills it can, with the right approach, be gradually developed and improved. By simply putting yourself in situations where flexibility is required, you can develop a great tolerance for uncertainty – and ultimately, become better at responding to it.

What you can do today: Simple practises – like switching up your daily routine or doing brain teasers – can have huge benefits, introducing an element of the unexpected into your normal life. Beyond that, creative problem solving tasks are ideal and many people find taking up a creative hobby – even if you believe you have little natural talent – can be a fantastic means of improving mental flexibility.

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3. Data literacy

Roughly one third of all data generated worldwide is related to healthcare, and practitioners increasingly express irritation and stress related to the sheer quantity of data they’re expected to parse on a daily basis. While this is in part a question of developing better technology to deal with the data overload, practitioners will still be expected to be comfortable with complex data and capable of making use of it to make better decisions.

Another element of data literacy is the ability to use data in conversations with patients. As realtime data becomes increasingly commonplace in e-health situations, practitioners will be able to utilise information on the spot not just to inform decisions but to discuss prognosis and lifestyle choices with patients.

Finally, practitioners need to develop ways of making the most of the richly valuable data they possess without undermining the human element of care, as the quality of communication between practitioner and patient is strongly correlated with ultimate health outcomes.

What you can do today: Learning about data and statistics will help develop a vital baseline of information. But further, practitioners should develop comfort and confidence basing decisions off data by simply practising – and thinking deeply about how data usage can go wrong.

4. Mindfulness and stress management

Medicine has always been a stressful, challenging career path, and the global pandemic has only served to illustrate that further. Future practitioners should be highly conscious of the gruelling mental and emotional impacts their work can have, and prepare to combat that impact with mindfulness and stress management techniques.

Such techniques require a level of awareness about how you process emotions and your own physical constitution, so it is important to start considering these things as soon as possible. It’s also important to remember that not every technique is for everybody, and a certain degree of window shopping is required to find the approach which best works for your particular mental and emotional makeup.

Of course, meditation is not going to wholly mitigate against the impact of shift-work and dealing with sickness on a daily basis. But learning to develop really effective coping mechanisms early on can mean the difference between a satisfying career and professional burnout.

What you can do today: Acknowledging that this is something you need to work on is a vital first step here. Beyond that, there are a huge number of online resources where you can learn breathing exercises, yogic techniques and even fully fledged Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to use as and when you need to.

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