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You’re a GP registrar with the world at your feet – but how do you learn to connect with and properly diagnose the myriad of patients of all ages and walks of life whom you’ll encounter?

GPTQ’s Deputy Director Medical Education, Dr Graham Emblen believes its vital GP registrars develop “soft skills” as well as clinical competence. 

“I use this very simple statement with some of my registrars: ‘If you take away your ability to communicate, how effective can you ever be as a doctor?’” he says.

Here are Graham’s top nine skills every GP registrar must develop to work unsupervised by the end of their training.

1. Empathy for patients

GP registrars’ ability to develop “the skill of portraying empathy” is paramount, says Graham. Patients must believe that they’ve been seen, heard and understood, requiring GP registrars to learn how to use appropriate body language and apply strong questioning and feedback summation.

2. Listening skills

Graham makes special mention of the importance of GP registrars developing strong listening skills. “Listening is one of the hardest things we do and it’s a time-saving skill because patients will often give you all the information you need to diagnose what’s actually wrong with them without having to ask too many questions.”

3. Be curious

Seek first to understand, says Graham, who believes this soft skill sees GP registrars genuinely focus all their attention on the patient without distraction. Gifted GP registrars have great intellectual curiosity and the ability to think outside the box.

4. Show compassion

Showing patient care, and willingness to go that extra step – like organising future appointments – separates good GPs from great ones, says Graham. “Ask yourself: ‘How can I help this person on their journey?’”

5. Be a good educator

Rather than dump a whole lot of information on patients, Graham believes GP registrars must strive to ensure patients leave with a greater understanding of their medical issues, so that they’re “not just told stuff”.

6. Use a doctor’s touch

Physically examining patients and the power of touch shouldn’t be underrated, Graham says. “A lot of research shows that patients actually appreciate doctors laying hands on them. If you have a sore throat you want the doctor to look at the problem.”

7. Learn to motivate

If GP registrars can fully engage patients in their own care and get them to follow medical advice, they’re kicking serious goals. “An effective GP will have up to 90 per cent of patients doing as they’re told through the skill of motivation and helping people to overcome barriers,” Graham says.

8. Art of self-care

General practice is such a challenging specialty that it’s crucial GP registrars adopt good self-care to ensure they are performing at the top of their game, says Graham. His advice to GP registrars is to adopt all the good habits they tell their patients: eat and sleep well, exercise, keep up other interests and maintain a social life.

9. Prioritise

Being able to identify and address the health issues that are important to patients in both the short and long-term is key. “GP registrars must learn good time management and patient engagement, as people will typically come in with an average of three complaints, but I’ve experienced up to 15,” Graham says.