How HOBY Will Make Me a Better Doctor: The Importance of “Soft Skills” in Medicine

It seems like just yesterday that I stepped on to the California Lutheran University campus on June 7, 2007 for the California Central HOBY seminar. It was a weekend that changed my life and introduced me to some of my closest friends. Many of my fellow HOBY ambassadors now serve as world-leaders in politics, the arts, business, law, and non-profit management. My own journey led me to the fascinating world of medicine. I am now completing my fourth year of medical school at UC Irvine in California, with an eye toward an Obstetrics and Gynecology residency. As I sat down to write my personal statement for my upcoming applications, I asked myself the inevitable questions: “Who am I? How did I become who I am? What kind of doctor do I want to be?” These questions, although challenging, were fairly easy to answer any time I thought about HOBY. As it turns out, I didn’t just learn how to be a doctor within the boundaries of the hospital walls. The lessons I learned at HOBY continue to shape who I am and the doctor I hope to become. So, I looked to my own experience in medicine to better define three “soft skills” that I learned at HOBY and how these skills will make me a better doctor and leader in my community.

  • Enthusiasm: I arrived at my HOBY seminar in 2007, a little nervous about what to expect. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I was met with wild, screaming cheers! My fears immediately melted into pure excitement. I turned to my mother, a smile plastered across my face, “I think I’m going to like it here.” Ask any HOBY alumnus and they’ll be able to tell you their favorite cheer. Cheering is so fundamental to the HOBY program, that most seminars schedule cheer time. Why? Because enthusiasm is an important skill. HOBY days can be long and exhausting and cheering is the perfect energizer. Enthusiasm keeps us alert, responsive, and engaged in the program and with each other.

I’ve found this to be true in medicine, too. Medical school is tiring. Residency, more so. A little bit of enthusiasm goes a long way. Although you won’t find me cheering on the hospital wards, my long days are made shorter when I am able to infuse a bit of HOBY spirit. While it may seem like HOBY cheers are just for fun, enthusiasm is one very important “soft skill” that I continue to employ in my daily life and one that will give me the energy to persevere through my medical training and beyond.

  • Self-Reflection: My favorite part of each day at HOBY is the quiet time at the end of the night when we can get together to reflect on our day. It’s a time for us to debrief and discuss what went well and what didn’t. Whenever I lead feedback sessions, I always employ a “positives and deltas” paradigm instead of a “positives and negatives” approach. “Delta,” a symbol for change in mathematics, embodies an important principle inherent in self-reflection. I prefer this subtle distinction because it focuses on the “change” that guides conversations in a constructive direction. When we reflect on things that didn’t go well during a HOBY program, we don’t focus on the negativity. Instead, our weaknesses become a source of inspiration for change and improvement.

As medical students, much of our training involves being constantly evaluated on our clinical acumen, procedural skill, and interpersonal abilities. It can be incredibly stressful, especially when individuals with many more years experience critique us. Despite this, HOBY prepared me to take these moments in stride. I know that critiques aren’t “negatives,” but are “deltas.” It is my opportunity to change. This “soft skill” continues to help me reflect on the ways I can improve and become a better doctor for my future patients.

  • Teamwork: Through numerous workshops, games, and group time, HOBY programs spend a number of hours teaching teambuilding skills. I am a better leader because HOBY showed me how to work with a diverse group of individuals with strong opinions and different ways of thinking. As important as these skills are, HOBY taught me a more indirect teamwork “soft skill” that often goes overlooked—humility. I remember my first year volunteering on the Operations Team at my local seminar. For hours on end, our team slugged boxes across campus, cleaned up after service projects, printed name tags, and made early morning coffee runs. With our busy schedule, the team rarely interacted with the ambassadors. I felt pretty bummed out about this until one of my mentors reminded me that without the Operations Team, the seminar wouldn’t happen. Even if I wasn’t working at the forefront, I was still a valuable part of the whole. We were apart of the team and I just needed a little bit of humility to remember that.

In medicine, humility and teamwork in medicine are crucial. Especially as a medical student, there can be a lot of “non-medical” tasks— requesting old medical records, faxing documents, or running specimens to the lab when the nurse is busy. I see some of my classmates struggle with this sometimes. “This isn’t what I went to medical school for,” is written all over their face, even if no one says it out loud. While these tasks aren’t officially a part of the medical school curriculum, they do help us become humble team players and eventually, doctors who are willing to go the extra mile to take care of our patients. And that’s something that I’ve learned at HOBY. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Seminar Chair or one of 20 Operations Team members, everyone is working together for a common goal, and everyone on the team pulls together to make that goal happen.

When my friends ask me about HOBY, it can be difficult to articulate the magnitude of its impact on my life. Sitting down to write this piece helped me to re-connect with the importance of this program and why I continue to volunteer. HOBY isn’t just a leadership seminar. HOBY makes me a better person; it will make me a better doctor.




Olivia Marik-Reis is a 2007 California Central Alumna. She has served as the Leadership Seminar Chair for both California Central & California South and currently volunteers on the California Board of Directors. She is a fourth year medical student at University of California, Irvine and plans to pursue a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, planting succulents, and watching Shakespeare plays.

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