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Survey Says New Pathologists Need “Soft” Skills for Success

by | Apr 3, 2017 | Essential, Inside the Lab Industry-lir, Jobs-lir, Laboratory Industry Report

From - Laboratory Industry Report Like any other professional, new pathology graduates need a combination of technical and "soft" skills to succeed. If you think that sounds like… . . . read more

Like any other professional, new pathology graduates need a combination of technical and “soft” skills to succeed. If you think that sounds like a truism, consider the new survey documenting how “soft” skills like flexibility, leadership, and relationship-building have emerged as a growing area of emphasis for prospective employers.

The CAP Study

Published in the February issue of the Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, the survey was conducted by Members of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) Graduate Medical Education Committee. The target respondents: CAP fellows with five or more years of U.S. practice experience and responsibility for hiring a new (i.e., in the workforce for three years or less) in-practice pathologist (NIP).

The survey addressed 18 skills and attributes employers consider when hiring, grouped into the categories of interpersonal style, work style, career motivation and job search, and technical proficiency. Respondents were asked to rank each skill using a five-point scale. 630 pathologists responded.

Soft Skills Outweigh Technical Skills in Hiring

The majority (71 percent) reported experiencing some degree of difficulty hiring entry-level pathologists across practice settings (not-for profit hospital, academic center or hospital, and pathologist-owned laboratory). Reasons cited included inadequate training during residency and applicants’ unrealistic expectations regarding work load/hours. Other common reasons for reluctance to hire included poor interpersonal and communication skills (including difficulty with the English language), poor technical proficiency and poor references.

The positive factors affecting hiring across practice settings, ranked as the most important were

  • Ethics/integrity (76 percent);
  • Work ethic (66 percent);
  • Professionalism (61 percent);
  • Diagnostic skills (58 percent);
  • Emotional stability (55 percent);
  • Team attitude (54 percent); and
  • Communication skills (53 percent).

Note that with the exception of diagnostic skills which finished in the middle of the pack, all of these positives were “soft” skills and attributes. “Regardless of practice setting, employers place a great deal of importance on interpersonal and communication skills and professionalism, two core residency training competencies that both applicants and residency training programs may prioritize less than those related to medical knowledge and patient care,” write the authors led by Miriam Post, M.D., from the University of Colorado, Denver.

Other Important Findings

The CAP survey also offers valuable insight into the job market, hiring and training processes. Respondents said that NIP pathologist hiring is expected to continue at healthy rates, with 85 percent saying they anticipated hiring at least one in the next five years. Expected hiring in academic settings is even more robust, with 92 percent reporting anticipated hiring within the next five years and 21 percent of those practicing in an academic setting expecting to hire four or more NIP pathologists over that time frame.

In terms of job search, the survey stresses the importance of networking and not relying on traditional job postings. Respondents noted that up to 70 percent of jobs are not publicly posted and 83 percent identified “networking/word of mouth” as the most common recruiting method.

Respondents were also asked to provide advice to new hires during training. The responses were grouped into three broad themes:

  • Capitalize on opportunities during training to enhance leadership skills;
  • Develop interpersonal and communication skills; and
  • Be flexible and know your preferred job characteristics.

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