Grit in Medicine: How Can We Practice It?

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Angela Duckworth coined the term ‘grit’ and discussed the concept in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She defined it as “passion and perseverance towards a long-term goal.”

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I end this year, my third year of medical school, floored by the grit of healthcare professionals. The grit of every single person I have met – and I do mean every single person – has astounded me. I have watched residents on long shifts still patiently answer questions. I have observed medical students accept negative feedback and come back the next day to try again. I have witnessed attendings juggle an extremely busy service and deliver excellent patient care. These experiences have caused me to reflect on how people cultivate resilience and the importance of its implementation.

Lindsey Theut

Resilience is only one tool that can be used to prevent burnout, and it has limitations. However, it can be employed, and like many things in medicine, it can be learned.

How, then, can we practice it? I encourage you to engage in some of the tactics that I’ve found helpful. They include:

1. Stop thinking ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Reflect on your current mindset. How do you react when faced with failure? Resist assigning yourself labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Rather, replace those thoughts with, “I worked hard on that” or “I’m still learning about that.” The idea of the word “yet” is something to incorporate into your mindset, an idea first conceived by psychologist Carol Dweck. For example, utilizing phrases such as, “I have not learned that yet” or “I am not getting that score yet,” can help develop a growth mindset, rather than a fixed one.

2. Put your thoughts on trial. When you fail at something, listen to the words you are saying to yourself. For instance, if you incorrectly answer a question on rounds and think, “I am not doing a good job,” stop and ask yourself if your best friend would tell you that. Would you say that to anyone else in the same situation? Likely not. Using this tactic can help you “win” your trial.

3. Stay connected and make connections. Work to stay connected with friends, family, and coworkers. Having a strong foundation of community support can help the climb feel less arduous. Incorporating time for loved ones can help to remotivate and recenter your thinking.

4. Reflect on your values and what you want out of your career. Since the journey is long, it can be easy to feel distanced from why you originally went into medicine. Reflect on your goals and values that brought you to medicine. What is it that excites you? Maybe it’s the love you feel for family and friends. If that’s what motivates you, think about how that relates to your goals. Maybe you’ll choose to work in a longitudinal healthcare setting so that your patients feel more like family.

If you are struggling, you are not alone. I encourage you to reach out to the national suicide hotline at 988 and/or local mental health support resources for support.

Lindsey Theut is a third-year medical student at Creighton University School of Medicine. She completed her undergraduate studies at Creighton with a B.S. in Neuroscience and Biology. She is passionate about mental health care access and palliative care. In her free time, she loves to bake, hike, spend time with loved ones, and play pickleball.

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