Grit & Finally Getting to Medical School

As I detailed in the first post of this blog, I took a non-traditional route to medical school. The more traditional route in Canada is to complete an undergraduate degree (typically a four-year honour's degree). In my year at the University of Toronto, 60% of the class of 259 earned their four-year bachelor degree, 27% completed graduate work (master's or Ph.D.), and 13% were accepted with either a three-year bachelor degree or after their third year but having the degree conferred.

Considering the length of time and the hurdles my particular path presented, many people ask me how I kept going. Other than a deep desire to help others, I did not have a satisfactory answer until I saw this TED Talk by Dr. Angela Duckworth and read her excellent book Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance.


Grit
In her book, she describes the conclusions she's drawn from years of researching perseverance. Dr. Duckworth begins by describing what drew her to the area: the United States Military Academy at West Point. She writes:
"By the time you set foot on the campus of [West Point], you've earned it. The admissions process for West Point is at least as rigorous as for the most selective universities. Top scores on the SAT or ACT and outstanding high school grades are a must, but when you apply to Harvard, you don't need to start your application in the 11th grade and you don't need to secure a nomination from a member of Congress, a senator, or the Vice President of the United States. You don't, for that matter, have to get superlative marks on a fitness assessment that includes running, pushup, sit-ups, and pull-ups. Each year, in their junior year of high school, more than 14,000 applicants begin the admission process. This pool is winnowed to just 4,000 who succeed in getting their required nomination. Slightly more than half of those applications (about 2,500) meet West Point's rigorous academic and physical standards and from that select group, just 1,200 are admitted and enrolled. 
Nearly all the men and women who come to West Point were Varsity athletes, most were team captains. And yet, 1 in 5 cadets will drop out before graduation."
Dr. Duckworth began this research by looking at the problem of attrition in West Point, though she was not the first to do so. Even after years of research, West Point had not developed a successful assessment tool that correlated with those who would graduate from West Point.

When she dug into the problem, she that, "For the first time in their lives [the candidates] were being asked, on an hourly basis, to do things they couldn't yet do." In other words, part of the answer was not merely accomplishment, but resiliency and succeeding after failure. She also notes that "rising to the occasion had almost nothing to do with talent", which is why she says that grit is independent of talent or intelligence. When she expanded her view to include people who were highly successful in other fields (such as medicine, law, and art), she summarized it as follows:
"[N]o matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hard working. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit."
The Hard Thing Rule
Importantly for parents, teachers, and coaches, she explains how to foster grit in children. The entire book is well worth reading, but I found her "Hard Thing Rule" to be particularly useful, as described in this article:
  1. Everyone in the family has to do something that's hard.
    • Something that requires practice and where you get feedback on how to improve.
  2. No one gets to pick the hard thing for anyone else.
    • As a parent, I do not get to tell my daughter what her "hard thing" is. I may remind her to practice etc., but she gets to decide what she wants to focus on. This helps develop her passion and her individuality.
  3. You have to finish what you start.
    • If you start an activity that has a set season (e.g. soccer) and you no longer feel like doing it, you must finish that season (including practicing for it). (This was always the rule in my house growing up.)

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