Healthcare Practitioners and Grit

By Bonnie Hutchinson

Pick a field of endeavour, any field. What characteristic is a predictor of exceptional expertise and success? What is even more important than intelligence, talent or natural ability?


If you’re a healthcare practitioner, you almost certainly have it.

Do you see yourself in any of these definitions of “grit”?

Grit: courage and resolve; strength of character, strength of will; indomitable spirit.
Synonyms: pluck, mettle, backbone, bravery, moral fiber, steel, nerve, gameness, valor, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, resolve, determination, resolution, stamina, doggedness, tenacity, perseverance, endurance.
Informal: gumption, guts, spunk, bottle.

Grit researcher Angela Duckworth has added to the traditional definitions by defining grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”[1]

If you’re a certified healthcare practitioner you’ve already demonstrated grit. You had to have grit to get through your training. You kept going no matter what was happening in your personal life or what you did or did not like about the training. You stayed the course even if you had to take some tests more than once. You kept moving through obstacles. You kept going until you achieved your result.

That’s grit in action.

Not tied to intelligence

Unlike many traditional measures of performance, grit is not tied to intelligence. You can have super high intelligence without grit, and grit without super high intelligence. This helps explain why some very intelligent individuals do not consistently perform well over long periods.

(This does not mean that as a healthcare practitioner you don’t need to be intelligent. You do! Grit is in addition to intelligence.)

Performing well over the long haul takes grit.

For a healthcare practitioner, you don’t just have the ability to respond to a medical situation in the moment. You also have the ability to keep performing expertly again and again over the long haul.

More than one kind of grit

There’s more than one kind of grit. Ann Linnea,[2] the first woman to kayak around Lake Superior, made this point during a presentation.

Some people do a high-profile hero’s journey; the grand gesture. They climb El Capitan or Mount Everest. They kayak around Lake Superior. But other people do a different kind of journey. They get up each day and do what needs to be done. They care for those who need care; they see that homes and vehicles are maintained and food is prepared and bills are paid.

Both kinds of journeys are necessary and important. Both journeys require grit. One kind of journey gets more attention than the other, but they are equally heroic.

Healthcare practitioners demonstrate both kinds of grit.

Four components of grit

Angela Duckworth is one of the big names in grit research. She published a best-selling book in 2016.[3] One of her TED talks about grit has been viewed more than 16 million times.[4]

Duckworth’s interest in “grit” began when she left a high-flying consulting job to teach math to grade seven students in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ score wasn’t the only thing that separated the successful students from those who struggled. That realization sent her on a path to research the thing she came to identify as “grit.”

People with “grit” are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods, despite experiences with failure and adversity. Four psychological assets that contribute to grit are:[5]

  1. Passion,
  2. Purpose,
  3. Hope,
  4. Practice.


Duckworth identified “passion” as one of the key factors that helps some people keep going when others give up. She says:

What I mean by passion is not just that you have something you care about. What I mean is that you care about that same ultimate goal in an abiding, loyal, steady way. You are not capricious.

Each day, you wake up thinking of the questions you fell asleep thinking about. You are, in a sense, pointing in the same direction, ever eager to take even the smallest step forward than to take a step to the side, toward some other destination.

At the extreme, one might call your focus obsessive. Most of your actions derive their significance from their allegiance to your ultimate concern, your life philosophy. You have your priorities in order.[6]

If you think back to your decision to become a healthcare practitioner, and what it took after that, you can probably see evidence of your own passion.

A larger purpose

For gritty people, the long hours of toil, the setbacks and disappointments, the struggle, the sacrifice—all this is worth it because, ultimately, their efforts pay dividends to other people.

In Duckworth’s world, purpose means “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” Most gritty people see their ultimate aims as deeply connected to the world beyond themselves.[7]

As a healthcare practitioner, it’s almost certain that one thing that drew you into your career was the desire to be of service. That’s a “grit” motivator – a big enough reason to make it through the training, and to keep being at your best.

Hope, optimism, growth mindset

The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.

Optimists habitually search for temporary and specific causes of their suffering. Pessimists assume permanent and pervasive causes are to blame.

When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. That’s a growth mindset. When you assume ways to change can’t be found so you stop searching, you guarantee ways won’t be found.

Duckworth has measured growth mindset and grit in both younger children and older adults, and in every sample, she found that growth mindset and grit go together.[8]

Deliberate Practice and Flow

Gritty people do more deliberate practice and experience more flow than others.[9]

Anders Ericsson’s research on peak performance showed that experts do not necessarily put in more hours of practice than others. Rather, experts practice differently. Experts are logging thousands upon thousands of hours of what Ericsson calls deliberate practice.[10]

Here’s Duckworth’s summary of how experts deliberately practice:

  1. First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses. They intentionally seek out challenges they can’t yet meet.
  2. Then, with undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their stretch goal. Many choose to practice while nobody is watching.
  3. As soon as possible, experts seek feedback on how they did. Naturally, much of that feedback is negative. This means that experts are more interested in what they did wrong—so they can fix it—than what they did right. And after feedback, then what?
  4. Experts do it all over again, and again, and again, until they have finally mastered what they set out to do. Until conscious incompetence becomes unconscious competence.

Deliberate practice is for preparation. Flow is for performance.

Gritty people do more deliberate practice (from K. Anders Ericsson) and experience more flow (from researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).[11] There’s no contradiction here, for two reasons:

  1. First, deliberate practice is a behaviour, and flow is an experience. Anders Ericsson is talking about what experts do. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is talking about how experts feel.
  2. Second, you don’t have to do deliberate practice and experience flow at the same time. In fact, Duckworth says that for most experts, deliberate practice and flow rarely happen together.

Duckworth has three suggestions for getting the most out of deliberate practice:

  1. Know the science.
  2. Make it a habit.
  3. Change the way you experience practice (i.e., appreciate the progress, not necessarily how it feels).

Grit as a process of maturity

Grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals to abandon quickly and higher-level goals that demand more stick-to-it-ive-ness.

Here’s Duckworth on “The Maturity Principle”:

Over time, we learn life lessons we don’t forget, and we adapt in response to the growing demands of our circumstances. Eventually, new ways of thinking and acting become habitual. There comes a day when we can hardly remember our immature former selves. We’ve adapted, those adaptations have become durable, and, finally, our identity—the sort of person we see ourselves to be—has evolved. We’ve matured.[12]

Hone Virtual Education, grit, and healthcare practitioners

Hone Virtual Education will soon be releasing virtual simulation training modules that strengthen your grit. The training modules (which you can download to your augmented reality smartphone or tablet) use principles of deliberate practice applied to healthcare practitioner skills – so you can be at your best when it really matters.

Check out

  • Learn more about Hone Cue Recognition simulation training;
  • Be notified of updates and launch dates;
  • Apply to be a beta tester as new modules are developed for healthcare practitioners in high-pressure environments.



Bonnie Hutchinson is a writer and lifelong learner with degrees in Education and Whole Systems Design as well as extensive training and experience in adult learning and teaching. She’s bestselling author of Transitions: Pathways to the Life and World Your Soul Desires.


[1]  Angela Duckworth (2016), Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Simon and Schuster Inc., New York

[2] Ann Linnea is author of Deep Water Passage: A Spiritual Journey at Mid-Life (1995) and Keepers of the Trees (2010); co-author with Christina Baldwin of Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture (1998); and-co-founder of PeerSpirit.

[3]  Duckworth (2016), op. cit.

[4] Duckworth TED talk on grit:

[5] Sam T. Davis, “Grit by Angela Duckworth” Book Summary (2016).

[6] Duckworth (2016), op. cit., quoted in Davis (2016), op. cit.

[7]  Davis (2016), op. cit.

[8]  Duckworth (2016), op. cit., referenced in Davis (2016), op. cit.

[9]  Davis (2016), op. cit.

[10] Ericsson, K. A. (2004): “Deliberate Practice and the Acquisition and Maintenance of Expert Performance in Medicine and Related Domains,” Academic Medicine, Vol 79, No. 10/ October Supplement.

[11] Ericsson (2004), op. cit. and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper Collins, New York.

[12] Duckworth (2016), op. cit., quoted in Davis (2016), op. cit.

Hone CUE Recognition on the App Store

The Hone CUE Recognition App will soon be available on the App Store for early adopters. When it is available - you will be able to download it via the link below.