National Evaluation of Surgical Resident Grit and the Association With Wellness Outcomes


Importance: Grit, defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, is predictive of success and performance even among high-achieving individuals. Previous studies examining the effect of grit on attrition and wellness during surgical residency are limited by low response rates or single-institution analyses.

Objectives: To characterize grit among US general surgery residents and examine the association between resident grit and wellness outcomes.

Design, setting, and participants: A cross-sectional national survey study of 7464 clinically active general surgery residents in the US was administered in conjunction with the 2018 American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination and assessed grit, burnout, thoughts of attrition, and suicidal thoughts during the previous year. Multivariable logistic regression models were constructed to assess the association of grit with resident burnout, thoughts of attrition, and suicidal thoughts. Statistical analyses were performed from June 1 to August 15, 2019.

Exposures: Grit was measured using the 8-item Short Grit Scale (scores range from 1 [not at all gritty] to 5 [extremely gritty]).

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was burnout. Secondary outcomes were thoughts of attrition and suicidal thoughts within the past year.

Results: Among 7464 residents (7413 [99.3%] responded; 4469 men [60.2%]) from 262 general surgery residency programs, individual grit scores ranged from 1.13 to 5.00 points (mean [SD], 3.69 [0.58] points). Mean (SD) grit scores were significantly higher in women (3.72 [0.56] points), in residents in postgraduate training year 4 or 5 (3.72 [0.58] points), and in residents who were married (3.72 [0.57] points; all P ≤ .001), although the absolute magnitude of the differences was small. In adjusted analyses, residents with higher grit scores were significantly less likely to report duty hour violations (odds ratio [OR], 0.85; 95% CI, 0.77-0.93), dissatisfaction with becoming a surgeon (OR, 0.53; 95% CI, 0.48-0.59), burnout (OR, 0.53; 95% CI, 0.49-0.58), thoughts of attrition (OR, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.55-0.67), and suicidal thoughts (OR, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.47-0.71). Grit scores were not associated with American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination performance. For individual residency programs, mean program-level grit scores ranged from 3.18 to 4.09 points (mean [SD], 3.69 [0.13] points).

Conclusions and relevance: In this national survey evaluation, higher grit scores were associated with a lower likelihood of burnout, thoughts of attrition, and suicidal thoughts among general surgery residents. Given that surgical resident grit scores are generally high and much remains unknown about how to employ grit measurement, grit is likely not an effective screening instrument to select residents; instead, institutions should ensure an organizational culture that promotes and supports trainees across this elevated range of grit scores.

Cite As
Hewitt DB, Chung JW, Ellis RJ, et al. National Evaluation of Surgical Resident Grit and the Association With Wellness Outcomes. JAMA Surg. 2021;156(9):856-863. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2021.2378
JAMA Surgery
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