An educator's hard answers to the question of soft skills

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The need to enhance the teaching of the “soft skills” in paramedic teaching programs was made clear at the end of a year-long international research project involving 11 universities in 2009 (Howie-Willis, 2008; Willis, O’Meara, Lazarsfeld Jensen, & McCarthy, 2009; Willis, Williams, Brightwell, O’Meara, & Pointon, 2010). Qualitative data from interviews and focus group discussions described graduates who could not express empathy with vulnerable people. They did not know how to reach out to old, mentally ill and non-English speaking patients. Preceptors and senior officers told stories of graduates whose responses were so inappropriate and immature that it made academics cringe. Graduates admitted they lacked confidence when patients needed emotional support. There is a popular tendency to conflate university education with a lack of social niceties, but educators believe that the social isolation of today’s young people, the intense exclusivity of peer relationships and the use of social media, are more subtle reasons for the communications problems reported among new graduates across many professions. Interpersonal skills in the past were probably learned in extended families and communities that shared clear values over multiple generations. Social scientists believe these are teachable skills, shaped by social expectations and not intrinsic attributes or dispositions (Berger & Luckman, 2002). In this reflection on teaching non-clinical skills to paramedics I explore some issues around the hard core social sciences, skills that are ubiquitously known to clinicians as soft skills.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-12
Number of pages3
JournalCanadian Paramedicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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