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HealthMarch 16, 2021

Instilling grit into your nursing students

By: Christie Cavallo, MSN, RN, EdDc, CNE, CNEcl
Marsha is a nursing student in your class. She doesn’t have money for all of her books, her computer is outdated, and she is wearing the same pair of scrub pants for the third semester in a row. Marsha is always to class on time and currently has a 3.75 GPA.

Now meet Mary, another nursing student in your class. Mary has most of her books, shares a computer with another student and her scrubs are really the wrong shade of blue. Mary has a slip in her hand today because she wants to withdraw. She states that she just can’t do this.

What makes one student with obstacles resilient and another student with the same obstacles resign? The answer is grit. Grit is a term coined by Angela Duckworth in her Ted Talk entitled The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Grit is defined by Duckworth (2016) in her book with the same title as “the combination of passion and perseverance that makes high achievers special” (p.8). So, then the question becomes, can grit be learned as an adult in nursing school, or is it just something one is born with? Let me challenge you to see that the answer is both.

Students are in our hearing for many hours out of the week. We teach them all the essential knowledge to being a nurse: breath sounds, hospital diets, central line care, etc., but do we teach them to persevere? Characteristics of a good nurse include passion and perseverance. Where is that in our course objectives and teaching plan? Today, you can start to include these two “P”s in your curriculum by offering a bowl of grit to your students every time you meet with them.

Connect them to their passion.

Have the students write a paragraph or two when they first start your program about why they want to become a nurse. Tell the students to make six copies and place them in strategic places (books, mirrors, refrigerator) where they would have to look at them often. Ask some students in class to share their “why” to becoming a nurse. Nursing students have great reasons for why they want to go to nursing school, but some lose sight of their “why” as the semester becomes busy.

Focus on their positives.

Everyone needs someone who believes in them, wants them to succeed and who thinks they are special. You might be that someone for a nursing student. Find something positive to say to each student when you are meeting with them. It might sound like “I really appreciate your professional emails” or “I noticed you have a gift of making your patients smile” or “You participate in class every time. I appreciate that!”. Sit back and watch their perseverance grow!

Share your nursing school story.

If you are reading this, you likely went through nursing school. Nursing school is just hard. Take some time in the middle of the semester to share your journey through nursing school and how you overcame obstacles. Students look up to their instructors, directors and deans and often think we have it all figured out. Sharing your story makes you human, relatable, and approachable. It also encourages others to go on because you did!

Walk alongside them.

Burning coals only get hotter if they are stacked together. Students need to be connected to their instructors. Post office hours, answer emails timely, come early to class or stay later. Have open office hours on one day out of the week, then open a zoom link and let anyone who wants to just drop in during that time. Someone once said it best “Be the person you needed when you were younger."

  1. Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York: Simon and Shuester.
Christie Cavallo, MSN, RN, EdDc, CNE, CNEcl
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
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