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GRIT: noun \ˈgrit\ firmness of character; indomitable spirit, every nurse you’ll ever meet.

A couple years ago, when I was applying to grad school, I heard Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on Grit. This new buzzword was very intriguing to me because I had always known myself to have the characteristics that comprised grit, but never had a name for it. Dr. Duckworth began studying grit after deciding to teach math to seventh graders in New York City public schools. She recognized the students who did the best in the class did not necessarily have the highest IQ’s, they had grit.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Duckworth says in her TED Talk.




So, in my DNP school interview, I used this. I have been a mostly A- to B student my whole life and have had to work really hard, so I knew I would need to justify my talents to the panel of interviewers because I did not have a perfect GPA. Thus I told them I was gritty and, of course, they loved it (thanks Dr. Duckworth).

Since moving to the east coast, beginning grad school, working three jobs, and dealing with my normal, crazy life, I have become even more gritty. However, while I consider myself to be pretty gritty, I have noticed that I have nothing on my coworkers. Nearly every nurse I have ever worked with is exceptionally gritty; I almost dare anyone to find a grittier profession.

Recently, NPR posted a podcast episode on grit, and this is where it gets nursey. More has been learned about grit and here are additional characteristics of being gritty. Dr. Duckworth believes grit is made up of four key components: interest, practice, purpose, and hope.

Interest means the gritty person has passion for a singular pursuit. Many of us became nurses to help people and even if that wasn’t the initial reason, I’d be willing to bet it has become the best part of your job. Psychologists believe these interests develop over time and are deepened by continuously engaging in the pursuit. Likewise, nurses have an inherent need and interest to help people, which develops into a deeper passion year after year.

Practice is just what it says. To become an expert, gritty people practice their trade, even if it is not pleasurable. This parallels a bedside nurse training baby nurses or joining committees to help the profession or perfect clinical skills. It also includes the grad student who works full-time, cares for her family, and somehow manages to obtain a DNP or other advanced nursing degree. I haven’t come across any other profession where one is almost expected to work while obtaining a doctorate. Physician assistants, who are the equivalent of nurse practitioners, do not work during their programs.

While I want to complain about this expectation, I can’t. I recently had knee surgery and have been away from my bedside job for almost four months. I am still doing research, writing, and going to school, but I miss my bedside ICU job more than anything. I have enjoyed the extra time, but I feel slightly lost and less cognitively sharp not working. Also, helping people and being with the other team members raises my mood exponentially. Do I really want to have every spare moment of time filled with something nursing related? Not exactly. Do I know it will make me a better clinician in the long run? Yes I do.




Purpose is another characteristic of gritty people. This means they describe their work as meaningful and have a desire to help others. Also, gritty people are driven by a purpose beyond themselves. Purpose is synonymous with nursing and although sometimes we are exhausted to the point of forgetting our purpose, it is impossible to separate the two.

Hope is the final main component of grit. Gritty people are optimistic about the future and their ability to improve or affect change. Nurses go to work knowing they are given the gift of opportunity to change a life. This hope keeps us going on our hardest days and increases our grit factor.

Some other notable characteristics of grit that are precisely nursey are: courage, conscientiousness, endurance/follow-through, and resilience. In my personal experience, an overwhelming amount of nurses possess these qualities.

Finally, it is necessary to mention the downside of grit. There has been discussion of people having too much grit, which is referred to as stubbornness. This can keep us pushing toward our goals that need to be left, staying in bad relationships, or sticking with ideas that are counter productive. This led me to consider the epidemic of nurse burnout, which I have experienced myself and written about here. Sometimes nurses don’t know when to take a break.

However, overall, I believe nurses possess mostly the great qualities of grit and should be included in any study regarding the topic. Grit has been researched for many reasons, but one to recognize the qualities of people who are out rightly successful, make a lot of money, or are considered exceptional at their trade. Many times, as we all know, the work of a nurse goes unnoticed and the general public really has no clue what we do every day. This, to me, is even more of an indication that nurses are gritty as hell. They have the ability to continue working in a tough profession that most don’t understand and they still love it.

I consider myself lucky to attend classes with such amazing, hard working people, who motivate me to be better. Also, as always, I am in awe of my brilliant coworkers who put up with an insane amount of shit for the sake of the patient and the love of the profession. Nurses = GRIT.



We get each other.

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