Intended for healthcare professionals


Having “grit” helps doctors avoid burnout, researchers find

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 30 June 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j3186
  1. Matt Limb
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. limb{at}

High levels of “grit” or resilience are associated with lower levels of burnout in UK doctors, researchers have found.1

The correlation was found among different groups of doctors, with consultants recording significantly higher levels of grit than trainees.

But it was not present among GPs who, as a group, had the highest levels of burnout.

The authors said that the nature of burnout in GPs could be different from that of other colleagues and that when burnout levels are very high the “protective role that grit can play could be lost.”

The UK study, led by researchers from NHS organisations in London including St George’s University Hospital, was published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.1

Researchers surveyed 548 doctors from different specialties and stages of training, including consultants, GPs, higher specialist trainees, and junior specialist trainees. Grit was described as the ability to persevere during difficulties, being self motivated to achieve success, and maintain a sustained effort over an extended period.

The authors said that an understanding of a person’s level of grit may be used to identify doctors at greater risk of burnout. “Interventions to improve grit through resilience training should be examined,” they said.

Burnout is characterised by exhaustion and disengagement from work, but not everyone who is subjected to long-standing stress related to work will develop it.

Few published studies to date have looked at how burnout relates to individuals’ levels of grit or resilience.

The researchers found that “overall, there was weak negative correlation between grit and burnout, demonstrating that high grit scores were associated (although weakly) with low burnout scores.” But when GPs were analysed separately, there was “no significant correlation between grit and burnout.”

The researchers found hospital consultants had “significantly higher” grit scores than trainees.

They said it was unclear whether this association was because those with lower levels of grit had left their profession, the acquisition of resilience during training, or a natural process with increasing age.

But it was likely the relation between grit and burnout was “not unidirectional,” they said. Having greater job satisfaction, and thus lower burnout levels, may lead to greater perseverance and higher grit levels through positive reinforcement, according to the study.

GPs’ grit scores were lower than consultants but comparable to the other groups. Although the GPs were, on average, younger than consultants, the difference remained after controlling for age.

The researchers said that secondary care doctors’ longer training time might allow more resilience to develop, or different personality traits could affect those drawn to hospital or general practice.

They said it remained to be seen whether grit could predict success in medical training.

“Further research is needed to understand how grit levels change during a doctor’s career, why GPs experience higher levels of burnout, and why the relationship between grit and burnout is not seen in this group,” they said.