Transferable Skills

Transferable skills

What are they, how can you develop them, and how can they help you in your career in healthcare?

The pandemic has highlighted some deficiencies in development of transferable skills for health students and new graduates. Understandably there is a large focus on development of clinical skills during clinical placement; with placements so much in demand recently due to cancellation of placements or organisations just not offering placements at the moment due to increased risk or staff exhaustion, developing clinical skills has become the priority.



What are transferable skills?

Transferable skills are sometimes called ‘soft’ skills – though I dislike that term as it seems to minimise their importance. The actual overall definition of what they are is obvious – skills that are transferable between settings, and they are extremely important in workplace settings.

One of the biggest issues when talking about transferable skills is that there is not one standard list of what they actually are.

Transferable skills commonly included in the list:

    • Communication (listening and speaking, via different mediums)
    • Leadership
    • Teamwork (and getting along with others)
    • Time management
    • Critical thinking & problem solving
    • Attitude
    • Work ethic/self-motivation
    • Conflict resolution
    • Decision making

This list is not comprehensive, but you get the idea. And as you can see, they all relate to job performance and getting along with others. So calling them ‘soft’ is a misrepresentation. They can be ‘hard’ skills for people to develop!

While transferable skills come naturally to a certain degree to some people, others need to spend more time developing them to better engage with their work colleagues, patients and clients. Even those who naturally have aptitude need time to develop their skills to a level that is required in healthcare settings – all healthcare workers need to develop transferable skills alongside their clinical skills (Dolev et al. 2021). Research has shown (e.g. Higgins et al. 2005) that even experienced health professionals have unmet non-clinical training needs, and often aren’t provided the time to attend non-clinical training.


How can transferable skills help you in your career in healthcare?

Having well developed transferable skills is beneficial to health professionals at all levels of experience. Students in particular need to highlight their transferable skills when applying for graduate positions, as they have limited clinical experience – employers will actually be looking for these skills in resumes and in interviews. Those behaviour-based questions in interviews? They help organisations identify the transferable skills they are looking for.

Having the above skills well developed will make you more employable, allow better career progression and work performance, enable better healthcare outcomes for patients and clients, and provide an all-round better workplace.

These human-centric transferable skills are also becoming more in demand as more technology is introduced into the workplace. Data is produced and analysed by computer-based technology, but employees need to be able to interpret, share, utilise and apply the information.


How can you develop your transferable skills?

One word: practice. How did you develop your clinical skills? – practice. Transferable skill development is no different. Evaluate your level of skill in each of the transferable skills listed above – and be honest. Everyone can improve their skills in these areas – everyone. I’ve been modelling good communication practices and teaching communication skills for years, and I still need to improve. One of the first things to fall down when you are stressed or angry is good communication – and how many other transferable skills on the list would be the same? Actually when you look at them – ALL of them.

There are a number of training options available to help you develop transferable skills. Some workplaces will offer training in these areas, but in rural areas it is often harder to access. Online courses are a good option, especially if access is an issue. The Going Rural Health website Learning Centre  has a number of courses that fit with these skills. Our team members also provide face to face training (when we can) or virtual training in some of these skills.

Visit the Going Rural Health website to learn more about what the team can offer in transferable skills education, or contact the Going Rural Health team for more information at .


And lastly: don’t give up. Ask for help if you need it. Development of transferable skills is a life-long practice. These skills are worthwhile, and worth the time to develop.

Trish Thorpe

Associate Lecturer, Rural Placement Co-ordinator

Going Rural Health Ballarat

Clinical Biochemist/Medical Scientist and Teacher


Higgins R, Gallen D, Whiteman S. (2005). Meeting the non-clinical education and training needs of new consultants. Postgraduate Medical Journal 81, pp519-523. DOI:

Dolev, N., Naamati-Schneider, L. & Meirovich A. (2021). Making Soft Skills a Part of the Curriculum of Healthcare Studies [Online First], IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.98671. Available from: