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The ability to work with others is a valuable trait that will serve you well, no matter what field you work in. You probably use people skills all day long — from communicating with colleagues and clients to making decisions as a team– that may be just as important as any professional expertise you have.

In the medical field, which has long been known for encouraging doctors to stand out individually, perhaps at the cost of working collaboratively, communication skills training is now being recognized as an essential part of the profession.

Administrators at Virginia Tech Carilion, the newest medical school in the United States, have decided to start screening potential medical school candidates in a new and ingenious way. In addition to taking into account grades and test scores, they now ask qualified applicants to undergo nine brief interviews that test their people skills in different ways. The candidates are given surprise questions, covering topics from ethics to insurance issues, that they must then answer with different interviewers.


From a New York Times article:

Virginia Tech Carilion administrators said they created questions that assessed how well candidates think on their feet and how willing they are to work in teams. The most important part of the interviews are often not candidates’ initial responses — there are no right or wrong answers — but how well they respond when someone disagrees with them, something that happens when working in teams.

Candidates who jump to improper conclusions, fail to listen or are overly opinionated fare poorly because such behavior undermines teams. Those who respond appropriately to the emotional tenor of the interviewer or ask for more information do well in the new admissions process because such tendencies are helpful not only with colleagues but also with patients.

“We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important,” said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carilion.

Eight US schools– Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Cincinnati — and 13 schools in Canada are now using this system, and it has proved highly predictive of medical licensing exam scores three to five years later. The exams test doctors’ cultural competency, decision-making and patient interactions.

This example of screening for people skills is specific to the medical field, but it can be applied to any workplace. Being able to work with a variety of different personalities in challenging situations is the sign of a true team player, an asset to any organization.

How can you take this concept and use it with your employee development?


Learn more about EDSI’s Listen First to Understand course. 

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