Professionalism in Allied Health: The Undeniable Importance of Human Skills in Healthcare

Published on March 4, 2024

Technical expertise is the sine qua non of healthcare qualifications. Think about the training and education it takes to enter the field: clinical programs like nursing, medicine, anatomy, and physiology must be completed. The use of specialized monitoring, measuring and testing equipment like X-rays and ultrasound machines needs to become second nature. A broad range of technical (or hard) skills must be mastered — illness diagnosis, treatment administration, advanced medical procedures — and a dictionary of medical terms must be memorized.

That’s why MedCerts’ many allied health programs focus on teaching clinical hard skills like phlebotomy, surgery assistance, sterile processing, dental assisting, physical therapy assisting, medical coding, and billing.

But now, think about the last time you visited the hospital or your doctor. Yes, you needed quality care from a technical point of view. But you probably also wanted the staff you interacted with to:


  • Communicate clearly and politely during your visit

  • Work effectively with their coworkers who also saw you

  • See you on time and not get distracted

  • Be organized and prepared for whatever you need help with

  • Not get flustered if a problem came up


In other words, you wanted them to have exemplary soft skills. You may not have even realized that you wanted them to have these skills. But the truth is that in healthcare, much like in every industry, the “human” side of the work is just as important as the technical side. One might say they are even more important in the world of healthcare because people who need healthcare are often struggling with sickness, discomfort, and anxiety.

Filling the human skills training gap in healthcare


According to Jennifer Zabel, the senior allied health program director at MedCerts, “Today you can teach anybody the hard skills and the clinical skills they need to do patient care. But, these caregivers will not be successful if they cannot also communicate and work well with patients and colleagues. Many of the certifications we see in healthcare do not address the interpersonal, or human skills side of the equation.”

Zabel explained that programs do not frequently train interpersonal or soft skills because they are not easily defined, especially when compared to the highly defined technical skills required in healthcare.

So, a few years ago, Jennifer set out to design a new program to help students get the character-rounding skills they need. The result was Professionalism in Allied Health, a course that gives students the soft skills that will help to ensure their success as they enter the complexities of healthcare settings and participate in patient care.


How MedCerts Designed the Right Course

If human skills are less well-defined, not to mention harder to grasp and measure, what is the best way to make sure that allied health students acquire them? Jennifer found that putting students through real-to-life healthcare scenarios would be a lot more beneficial than using other learning methods.

Instead of sitting down to read curriculum about soft skills like communication, etiquette, and managing emotions, students should watch appropriate responses and interactions in healthcare settings so they can begin to replicate that in their own interactions. Much like a college athlete practicing for gameday, MedCerts’ students in the Professionalism course reenact and practice real-world scenarios to develop and hone their own interpersonal skills so they can get a feel for how they would respond in workplace situations.

To do this, the course starts with a series of video lectures that introduce the student to the different real-life scenarios and concepts they’ll encounter in the workplace. It then moves on to skills presentations and checks to see what the student has absorbed. Finally, the student is placed in a 3D immersive environment to test out their interactions with others and to practice their critical-thinking skills. In each phase, the course builds and focuses on interactions that give learners the basic human skills they will use every day.

Zabel said that “If a student is already good at things like communication, it’s a chance to enhance their skills. If they aren’t as strong at communication, they see it modeled, and get a chance to start developing and practicing the skill before they end up in a real-world setting.” The senior program designer also added that the course really helps students look at the world in a new way and to organize their own thoughts about it. She thinks of the professionalism course like giving the student a “toolbox of things that they can use in the workplace. There’s always a skill in there you can develop and use every day.”

That toolbox includes critical soft skills like:

  • Sensitivity toward patients and coworkers

  • Interpersonal and leadership skills so they work well in teams

  • Medical ethics and the importance of transparency, honesty, boundaries, and confidentiality

  • Office/workplace etiquette and professional appearance

  • Communication in all of its forms

  • Emotional strength and intelligence

  • Cultural, socioeconomic, and racial awareness


MedCerts now requires Professionalism in Allied Health in all of its programs. It is a two-week course and comes at the beginning of all the technical programs that MedCerts offers. Before students learn clinical skills, they get familiar with human skills. According to Zabel, “Professionalism in Allied Health is the foundation of everything we teach.”


The Benefits: Ready for the Reality of Work

According to a 2023 study from Cengage and Morning Consult, 75% of businesses struggle to find graduates with the right soft skills. MedCerts’ Professionalism course is timely because it maximizes the student’s exposure to what so many businesses say is in short supply.

This ultimately serves two audiences — the businesses looking for solid talent and the students looking to become valuable contributors. The students who gain these skills will find that they are more flexible, adaptable professionals as they progress through their working lives.

The professionalism course recognizes that healthcare providers are looking for a lot more than clinical skills. They are looking for people who can help run the business and manage patients well. The course acknowledges that the situations that new workers will face are often very tough. The hardest part of their job won’t likely be related to the technical side of the business — something like conducting a blood draw, assisting with surgery, operating medical equipment, or any number of technical things. In truth, the hard part is having to interact with people who are sick and, therefore, not at their best. Modeling how students should behave in hard situations is absolutely invaluable.

According to Zabel, if they have strong interpersonal skills and can be confident, stable, and manage themselves and their emotions well, they will become well-rounded healthcare professionals and excel in their work. These skills will also help them “go beyond the knowledge they need to do their job” and become more active participants to benefit themselves, their team, and patients.

Today, the Professionalism course has become one of MedCerts’ most recognized courses. Thousands of students have gone through it, and it is offered via a wide variety of partners, like Coursera.

If you would like to learn about partnering with MedCerts to find well-trained healthcare talent or offer the Professionalism course, please contact us.

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Written by
Jennifer Zabel
Senior Allied Health Program Developer

Jennifer Zabel joined MedCerts as the Senior Allied Health Program Developer in July 2022. Prior to this role, she was the Director of Clinical Administration at ECPI University and a subject matter expert in the development of MedCerts’ Dental Assistant program.

She holds her Associate’s of Science in Dental Hygiene, a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Sciences, and a Master’s of Science in Healthcare Administration. Jennifer is a seasoned dental professional with work experience as a Certified Dental Assistant, Registered Dental Hygienist, Dental Assistant educator, and academic administrator.

In her free time, Jennifer loves long walks on sunny days, sitting by an open window with a good book and a cup of coffee on rainy days. Her best time is spent with her family.

Published on March 4, 2024

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