What Are Clinical Skills? (And How To Improve Them)

Updated March 10, 2023

If you're interested in working in health care, it's important to develop clinical skills. These are abilities professionals use in medical settings that relate to patient care, such as assessing and diagnosing patients. Learning what these skills are and how you can develop and improve your skill set may help you advance your health care career. In this article, we discuss what clinical skills are, provide examples of them, share steps on how to improve your skills and offer tips on how to highlight these abilities.

What are clinical skills?

Clinical skills are abilities health care professionals use when assessing, diagnosing and caring for patients. Clinical skills also describe applied medical knowledge, such as assessing bloodwork. Physicians, nurses, surgeons, lab technicians, medical assistants and physical therapists all use clinical skills in their roles. You can develop these skills while studying for your medical degree. You may also learn many clinical skills while interning and gaining hands-on experience with treating patients.

Clinical skills can be hard or soft skills. Soft ones, such as communication, are important for interacting with patients and gathering enough information to diagnose and treat them accurately. Hard skills are more technical abilities that are specific to your profession, such as reading vital signs, collecting samples and administering medication.

Examples of clinical skills

It's helpful to consider examples of clinical skills to understand them better. Here are some examples of clinical skills:


Health care professionals use advanced communication skills because much of their work relies on communicating with patients, their families and medical teams. Communication skills include the ability to share your thoughts, listen to others and understand them and read nonverbal communication, such as written word or body language. Listening to patients and understanding their speech can be vital to correctly treating them. Health care personnel may use communication skills when gathering patient history, sharing the treatment plan with the medical team and diagnosing the patient.


Observation is a skill that includes interpreting the information you gather through your senses. Health care professionals often make observations using sight, touch and hearing. Nurses and medical assistants can make observations about the patient when checking vital signs and recording their history. Physicians and physical therapists may perform a more thorough examination to assess their patients and collect meaningful observations. Being able to trust your observation is important when a patient may not communicate or is unaware of an issue.

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Analysis is the ability to interpret and make conclusions from observations. This is an important skill for diagnosing and treating patients. Medical professionals, such as physicians and surgeons, may analyze X-rays or lab tests to identify issues their patients are experiencing. Analytical skills also include critical thinking, which helps evaluate information and make objective conclusions based on evidence.

Administering medication

Administering medication is a hard skill for health care professionals. Nurses, physicians and medical assistants may give medication to patients. Some medications require IV administration or oral or topical treatments, and it's important to be able to perform these tasks using various methods. Understanding how to administer medication can also be important to physicians who determine the amount of medication a patient needs. For home treatment, health care professionals require knowledge of how to administer medication so they can instruct their patients.

Case management

Case management is a process of caring for a patient from the time of admittance to when they can leave the clinic. This includes the ability to assess, evaluate, diagnose, implement a treatment plan, monitor the patient and coordinate their care with a medical team. Being able to manage a patient case is the responsibility of all members of the medical team, so you may use this skill in any career in the medical field.


Collaboration is the ability to work well with others to achieve a common goal. Health care professionals collaborate to heal patients and provide quality care. Physicians may collaborate with other physicians or nurses when making a diagnosis. They do this by sharing observations and medical opinions. Medical professionals, such as physical therapists, rely on collaboration with their patient's primary physician to create an effective therapy plan. When a medical team communicates and works together to treat a patient, the patient may receive better care.


Diagnostics is a clinical ability physicians use to determine what issue their patients are experiencing. They can diagnose illnesses, chronic conditions and mental or physical ailments. With the use of medical tests and observation, physicians can make a diagnosis. Diagnostic skills also include having the knowledge to choose which tests may be most helpful in identifying the patient's condition.

Computer literacy

The ability to use computers is an important skill because health care facilities use technology to document a patient's case. Most health care professionals likely use a computer or tablet to record the procedures, tests, treatments and observations they make regarding a patient. Computer literacy is also important for accessing patient records and researching treatments they may need.


It's important for health care professionals to keep accurate records of the patient's case, including treatments they perform and anything the patient shares about their state of health or medical history. This is a clinical skill most health care professionals use in some form. Record-keeping is a skill that uses your listening and writing skills. In health care, it's also important to be familiar with medical terminology to help you keep accurate records the medical team can understand.


Examination is a hard skill health care professionals use if they work directly with patients. Nurses and physicians may physically assess a patient by checking their blood pressure, heart rate, vision, hearing, weight and body. An examination is a key part of the process of diagnosing a patient. This skill also requires knowledge of safety protocols, such as wearing gloves and sterilizing the exam table.

Cultural awareness

Cultural awareness is a skill to understand differences between people and how to act toward others with sensitivity. In health care, this is essential because medical professionals interact with people of many cultures. Being aware and showing sensitivity to a patient's culture can improve the quality of care and help make the patient feel more comfortable. Their mental state may affect their healing process, so cultural awareness can be important to treat a patient.

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Medical terminology

Medical terminology is an ability to apply knowledge of conditions, procedures, medical tools and vocabulary health care professionals use. It's important to use medical terms when describing a patient and documenting their treatment because this is a universal language for medical professionals. Using medical terminology can also improve accuracy when treating a patient.

Emergency care

Emergency care, such as applying bandages, inserting an IV or using sutures, is a clinical skill medical team members may use. Health care professionals may have varying degrees of expertise in emergency care skills. For example, a nurse may be able to bandage injuries, while a physician may be better at sutures and repairing wounds. Knowledge of emergency care practices can be useful in managing a variety of situations that may occur when treating a patient.

How to improve your clinical skills

To learn how to improve your clinical skills, follow these steps:

1. Pursue a degree

To work in health care, most careers require a medical science degree. Depending on the role you want on a medical team, you may pursue a specialized license, such as a registered nurse or licensed practitioner. While earning your degree, you can develop many clinical skills, such as medical terminology, analysis, observation and communication. Courses to earn a degree in health care or related field may provide opportunities to practice your skills, which can help you improve them.

2. Obtain hands-on experience

Getting hands-on experience is an effective way to improve your skills. You can do this by finding an internship, volunteering or participating in clinical practice for your degree. The type of experience you pursue may depend on the career you want. For example, a physical therapist might use an internship to gain experience with patients.

3. Find a mentor

A mentor is a professional with experience in the field who can help guide you. You may find a mentor by attending networking events or contacting your network and letting them know you're searching for a mentor. Mentors can work with you to develop and improve your skills. They can also help you determine which skills need the most improvement.

4. Evaluate your skill set

Evaluating your skill set is an important step in improving yourself. You can do this by analyzing your strengths and weaknesses. Any skills that you can consider weaknesses may require more focus. It's also helpful to search for specialized training or courses for any clinical skills you wish to improve.

Related: Steps for Skill Improvement

5. Advance your education

Continuing your education can be a great way to improve your skills. Regardless of your career in health care, you can pursue an advanced degree, such as a master's or doctorate degree. You may also pursue training or classes to improve your skills and update your knowledge. Consider checking with your employer about learning opportunities they may offer, such as specialized training.

Clinical skills in the workplace

You can practice clinical skills in the workplace to improve them. Here are practical uses of clinical skills:

  • Spend more time with patients. This may help you communicate better with patients and learn more about their condition, so you can improve the quality of care they receive.

  • Evaluate medical tests on patients. You can use analytical, critical thinking and evaluation skills while reviewing the results of any tests you perform on patients, such as an X-ray.

  • Conduct meetings with your medical team. To increase collaboration, you can have regular meetings with medical staff to discuss patients and determine treatment plans.

  • Update patient charts. If you collect a patient's history or learn any information about them, you can add this to the patient's chart to ensure the medical team has accurate and up-to-date records on the patient's condition.

How to highlight clinical skills

When you're applying for a career in health care, it's important to share the clinical skills you have with the employer. Here are tips on how to highlight clinical skills during your job search:

Clinical skills for a resume

Resumes and cover letters often have sections where you can highlight your clinical skills. On a resume, you can list your clinical skills in the skills section. You can also demonstrate your skills when describing your job duties in your work experience. This provides your potential employer with context on how you can apply your skills in the workplace.

Clinical skills for a cover letter

Another way to add context to your skill set is to elaborate on them in a cover letter. You can choose your strongest clinical skills to highlight and explain specific situations in which you used the skill. This can help you demonstrate your skills to a hiring manager effectively.

Related: Is a Cover Letter Necessary? (With Other FAQs About Cover Letters)

Clinical skills for a job interview

You can highlight your clinical skills during a job interview by recalling your experiences. For example, you can share your collaboration skills as they apply to a clinical setting by explaining how you assisted on a medical team as an intern. Consider giving specific examples to show your competency and proficiency with a skill.

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