Professional Behaviours in Thinking and Communication

Original Editor - Wanda van Niekerk based on the course by Benita Olivier

Top Contributors - Wanda van Niekerk and Jess Bell  

Critical Thinking[edit | edit source]

Definition of Critical Thinking[edit | edit source]

Below are some definitions of critical thinking available in healthcare literature.

  • "Critical thinking is the process of analysing and evaluating thinking to make decisions."[1]
  • "Critical thinking is a process of careful thought and reflection before a decision is made."[2]
  • "Critical thinking is defined as the purposeful, self-regulatory judgement that results in interpretation, analysis and inference as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological or contextual considerations upon which that judgement is based."[3]
  • "The act or practice of thinking critically (as by applying reason and questioning assumptions) to solve problems, evaluate information, discern biases, etc."[4]

Key Elements of Critical Thinking in Healthcare[edit | edit source]

Several key elements are involved in critical thinking when managing patients. These are[5]:

  • assessment and analysis
  • problem identification
  • decision-making
  • continuous evaluation

The Ideal Critical Thinker[edit | edit source]

Personal critical thinker indicators refer to the behaviours and characteristics of critical thinkers.[6] Developing these characteristics / behaviours may help healthcare professionals in their quest to become better critical thinkers. Indicators are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Personal critical thinker indicators
Critical thinker indicators
  • self-aware
  • curious
  • self-corrective
  • intuitive
  • honest
  • prudent
  • creative
  • courageous
  • health-oriented
  • genuine
  • inquisitive
  • analytical
  • confident
  • responsible
  • open-minded
  • realistic
  • patient
  • improvement-oriented
  • authentic
  • alert to context
  • insightful
  • resilient
  • autonomous
  • fair-minded
  • practical
  • persistent
  • effective communicator
  • reflective
  • logical
  • careful
  • sensitive to diversity
  • proactive
  • flexible

Critical thinking is a skill that can be improved through self-awareness, instruction, practice and getting feedback from others. Three different perspectives of critical thinking are thinking ahead, thinking in action and reflective thinking or thinking back.[6]

Strategies for Becoming a Critical Thinker[edit | edit source]

Five recommended strategies to become a critical thinker are[6]:

  1. Get to know yourself better and understand yourself (self-awareness)
  2. Build trust in relationships through respectful communication
  3. Commit to developing the necessary skills, knowledge and attitude for critical thinking
  4. Make sure everyone in your group / department / division knows what critical thinking is by using evidence-based resources
  5. Reflect on your thinking and reasoning processes and ask for feedback

Navigating Professional Challenges with Problem-Solving Skills[edit | edit source]

Why is Problem-Solving in Healthcare Significant?[edit | edit source]

  • Adaptability to change:
    • effective problem-solving skills allow healthcare professionals to adapt to unpredictable and dynamic changing situations[7]
  • Optimising patient outcomes:
    • enhancing healthcare professionals' decision-making skills will raise the quality of patient care[8] and improve patient outcomes
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Patient advocacy

Necessary Skills for Effective Problem-Solving[edit | edit source]

Certain skills are required in healthcare professionals for effective problem-solving in different and complex scenarios.[5] These include[5]:

  • analytical or critical thinking
  • collaborative problem-solving
  • continuous improvement mindset
  • resilience and adaptability
  • effective communication


Effective Communication Strategies[edit | edit source]

Important Aspects Related to Communication[edit | edit source]

  • Effective communication builds trust[10]
    • you can read more about factors leading to effective communication here
  • Empathy and compassion[11]
    • empathetic communication is important in building a therapeutic alliance
    • empathetic communication allows clinicians to gather vital subjective information that promotes a holistic patient approach
    • you can read more about using empathy in communication here
  • Effective choice of communication strategies
    • patients prefer clinicians who communicate without medical jargon
    • clinicians who communicate with clear, concise and jargon-free language are more positively received; they are seen as empathetic and approachable and are rated as good communicators by patients[12]
  • Cultural competence
    • you can read more about culture and communication here
  • Informed decision-making
    • this is a collaborative process that involves the patient and clinician making a decision after discussing all the available options, the pros and cons of each option, and considering patient preferences, values and circumstances[13]
    • you can read more about informed-decision making and other important considerations when discussing options with patients here
  • Team dynamics
    • effective communication between members of a medical team enables the team to make adjustments to strategies and actions during patient care
    • "Effective communication is the linchpin of teamwork."
    • communication quality is more important than frequency[14]
  • Information sharing
    • "Timely and accurate sharing of patient information is crucial for coordinated care."[5]
  • Respecting patient privacy
    • information sharing is important in an interdisciplinary health team, but healthcare professionals should convey sensitive information discreetly and securely
    • healthcare providers are legally obligated to keep patient information private and secure[15]

Interpersonal Skills for Positive Relationships and Outcomes[edit | edit source]

Interpersonal skills lie at the heart of professionalism in healthcare. These skills include[5]:

  • effective communication
  • empathy and active listening
  • interprofessional collaboration
  • conflict resolution
  • cultural sensitivity
  • maintaining boundaries
  • team building

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Berg C, Philipp R, Taff SD. Scoping review of critical thinking literature in healthcare education. Occupational Therapy In Health Care. 2023 Jan 3;37(1):18-39.
  2. Ho YR, Chen BY, Li CM. Thinking more wisely: using the Socratic method to develop critical thinking skills amongst healthcare students. BMC medical education. 2023 Mar 20;23(1):173.
  3. Brudvig TJ, Dirkes A, Dutta P, Rane K. Critical thinking skills in health care professional students: A systematic review. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2013 Oct 1;27(3):12-25.
  4. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Critical thinking. Available from (last accessed 3 April 2024)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Olivier, B. Professional Behaviours in Thinking and Communication. Course. Plus. 2024
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Alfaro-Lefevre, R. Critical Thinking, Clinical Reasoning and Clinical Judgement. Edition 7. Missouri. Elsevier, 2020.
  7. Saeedyan M, Mohammadi MA, Mirzaei A, Mozaffari N. Predictors of problem-solving skills among emergency medical services staff in Iran: A cross-sectional correlational study. Frontiers in Psychology. 2022 Jul 27;13:934569.
  8. Fatma AY, Polat S, Kashimi T. Relationship between the problem-solving skills and empathy skills of operating room nurses. Journal of Nursing Research. 2020 Apr 1;28(2):e75.
  9. Learning Mavericks. Improve Decision Making, Communication, and Problem Solving Skills In Healthcare | Soft Skills. Available from: [last accessed 03/04/2024]
  10. Greene J, Ramos C. A mixed methods examination of health care provider behaviors that build patients’ trust. Patient Education and Counseling. 2021 May 1;104(5):1222-8.
  11. Savvoulidou K, Papageorgiou A, Kolokotroni O, Kapreli P, Tsokani A, Strimpakos N, Kapreli E. Facilitators and barriers of empathetic behaviour in physiotherapy clinical practice: A qualitative focus group study. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2024 Feb 23:102923.
  12. Allen KA, Charpentier V, Hendrickson MA, Kessler M, Gotlieb R, Marmet J, Hause E, Praska C, Lunos S, Pitt MB. Jargon be gone–patient preference in doctor communication. Journal of Patient Experience. 2023 Mar;10:23743735231158942.
  13. Hoffmann T, Bakhit M, Michaleff Z. Shared decision making and physical therapy: what, when, how, and why?. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. 2022 Jan 1;26(1):100382.
  14. Gregory ME, Hughes AM, Benishek LE, Sonesh SC, Lazzara EH, Woodard LD, Salas E. Toward the development of the perfect medical team: critical components for adaptation. Journal of patient safety. 2021 Mar 1;17(2):e47-70.
  15. Tegegne MD, Melaku MS, Shimie AW, Hunegnaw DD, Legese MG, Ejigu TA, Mengestie ND, Zemene W, Zeleke T, Chanie AF. Health professionals' knowledge and attitude towards patient confidentiality and associated factors in a resource-limited setting: a cross-sectional study. BMC medical ethics. 2022 Mar 14;23(1):26.