Beyond medical: Harnessing soft skills for success in urology

Scenic Innsbruck, Austria was the host city to the inaugural module of the EAU Talent Incubator Programme, an initiative of the EAU Young Urologist Office (YUO) which was spearheaded by YUO Chair Dr. Juan Luis Vásquez (DK). Module 1 took place from 11 to 13 January 2024 where I, together with fellow participants, fine tuned essential non-medical competencies such as work and time management; conflict resolution; building professional relationships; leadership skills, and more. It was also fascinating to see how a few days together transformed a group of strangers into a close-knit team.

Sun, 18 Feb 2024 • Dr. Rianne Lammers, Dept. of Urology, UMC Groningen (NL)
Non Medical SkillsLeadershipTalent Incubator ProgrammeTime ManagementMental HealthCareerYoung Urologists Office

Follow the leader
Our group comprised of 20 residents and young urologists, who began the programme with an introduction to situational leadership presented by experts Mr. Herman Rijksen (NL) and Mr. Chris De Jong (NL). Some of the insights they shared is how one can tell if the other person is able and willing to be guided and led. If they are not, one has to decide which leadership style is more applicable. Mr. Rijksen and Mr. De Jong also shared the analysis results of our own preferred leadership style, and how flexible we were in switching styles.

Afterwards, Prof. Sabine Brookman-May (US) took us to a ballroom where we discussed what it takes to be on the dance floor and on the balcony overlooking it all; an analogy to analysing our stakeholders and how to persuade and/or influence them. Finally, we had an impassioned presentation by Prof. Michael Jewett (CA) on patient engagement.

Ice-breaker (pun-intended)
We ended the day enjoying each other’s company, the fresh crisp air, snow-biking and -gliding, while relishing the impressive mountain views and savouring the mulled wine. Then we headed indoors for a bit for exercises in active listening and presentations which was coordinated by Ms. Alexis Milligan (CA). In the evening, we walked up the mountain with our paths lit by torches in our hands (some fellow participants even described the hike as “magical”).

“Club Sandwich” technique and more

The next day, Mr. De Jong taught us how to tackle adaptive challenges. In order to do so, it helps to have good emotional intelligence, a topic that Prof. Brookman-May also told us all about.

Dr. Nicolas Raison (GB) discussed the topic of giving feedback. We all know the “Sandwich Technique” (i.e., positive, negative, positive statements), but there are better techniques that focus less on the negative feedback most of us are more prone to remember: the “Club Sandwich” and the “Set&Go” techniques.

Afterwards, Prof. Brookman-May talked about building relationships; it is helpful to offer value without expecting something in return. Prof. Jewett continued the discussion with insights on shared decision-making. After that, we learned from Ms. Milligan about body language and small exercises one can do to be more present (e.g., working in an outpatient clinic). My fellow participant, Dr. Lobna Ali (DE), shared "What made me reflect on my daily practice are the sessions with Ms. Milligan. It made us more self-aware and taught us the impact of our words on the patient experience.” Finally, we discussed the several styles of conflict handling, our preferred styles and how can we switch to a different style if needed.

Stay open-minded
On the third and final day, Prof. Brookman-May talked about career development. After being in academics, she switched to research in the development department at a pharmaceutical company. She showed us it is good to stay open-minded as unexpected situations might lead to new exciting opportunities sometimes.

The following lecture by Dr. Raison made us think about teams and what it means and takes to be a good leader. A great team can be represented by the equation “2+2=5” which means competence for all members in addition to more personal growth results to increase in output.

Dr. Pedro Blasco Hernández (ES) and Prof. Eamonn Rogers (IE) disclosed a confronting statistic on the average time we give our patients to talk about what ails them: only 11 seconds! We practised situational patient conversations and received tips on how to improve them. Co-participant, Dr. Ali said that the patient-simulation sessions were eye-opening. She stated, “It was like
examining our daily practice through a one-way glass in an interrogation room." Other participants agree; these sessions brought bad work habits to light so we can be mindful of them and improve them.

We ended the course with a personal plan for growth. After forming a buddy system with one or two other people, we challenged each other to clarify our goals and decide on the first step to reach those goals.

Off to a great start
This module is a commendable start of the EAU Talent Incubator Programme. It highlights the many soft skills one can use and improve in order to expand one’s clinical practice, personal growth, and leadership. Crucial skills in challenging situations (e.g., lawsuits, increasing numbers of burnouts, etc.) are strengthened.

We also have gotten to know each other and went from a group to a team. The programme created a supportive community where we learned from each other on both personal and professional levels. We bonded and felt comfortable enough to share our own experiences.

I, together with fellow participants, agree that the programme encouraged us to self-reflect and further strengthen our emotional intelligence; be mindful of how we communicate with patients and our peers; aspire to be good leaders; and aim for high-quality patient care. We collectively recommend the programme to all residents and young urologists!


This article first appeared in the January-February 2024 edition of European Urology Today.