Growth mindset is a well-established phenomenon in childhood education that is now starting to appear in health care education literature.1 This concept emphasizes the capacity of individuals to change and grow through experience and that an individual’s basic qualities can be cultivated through hard work, open-mindedness, and help from others.2
Growth mindset opposes the concept of fixed mindset, which implies intelligence or other personal traits are set in stone, unable to be fundamentally changed.2 Individuals with fixed mindsets are less adept at coping with perceived failures and critical feedback because they view these as attacks on their own abilities.2 This oftentimes leads these individuals to avoid potential challenges and feedback because of fear of being exposed as incompetent or feeling inadequate. Conversely, individuals with a growth mindset embrace challenges and failures as learning opportunities and identify feedback as a critical element of growth.2 These individuals maintain a sense of resilience in the face of adversity and strive to become lifelong learners.
As the field of pediatric hospital medicine (PHM) continues to rapidly evolve, so too does the landscape of PHM fellowships. New programs are opening at a torrid pace to accommodate the increasing demand of residents looking to enter the field with new subspecialty accreditation. Most first-year PHM fellows in established programs enter with a clear precedent to follow, set forth by fellows who have come before them. For PHM fellows in new programs, however, there is often no beaten path to follow.
Entering fellowship as a first-year PHM fellow in a new program and blazing one’s own trail can be intriguing and exhilarating given the unique opportunities available. However, the potential challenges for both fellows and program directors during this transition cannot be understated. The role of new PHM fellows within the institutional framework may initially be unclear to others, which can lead to ambiguous expectations and disruptions to normal workflows. Furthermore, assessing and evaluating new fellows may prove difficult as a result of these unclear expectations and general uncertainties. Using the growth mindset can help both PHM fellows and program directors take a deliberate approach to the challenges and uncertainty that may accompany the creation of a new fellowship program.
One of the challenges new PHM fellows may encounter lies within the structure of the care team. Resident and medical student learners may express consternation that the new fellow role may limit their own autonomy. In addition, finding the right balance of autonomy and supervision between the attending-fellow dyad may prove to be difficult. However, using the growth mindset may allow fellows to see the inherent benefits of this new role.
Fellows should seize the opportunity to discuss the nuances and differing approaches to difficult clinical questions, managing a team and interpersonal dynamics, and balancing clinical and nonclinical responsibilities with an experienced supervising clinician; issues that are often less pressing as a resident. The fellow role also affords the opportunity to more carefully observe different clinical styles of practice to subsequently shape one’s own preferred style.
Finally, fellows should employ a growth mindset to optimize clinical time by discussing expectations with involved stakeholders prior to rotations and explicitly identifying goals for feedback and improvement. Program directors can also help stakeholders including faculty, residency programs, medical schools, and other health care professionals on the clinical teams prepare for this transition by providing expectations for the fellow role and by soliciting questions and feedback before and after fellows begin.
One of the key tenets of the growth mindset is actively seeking out constructive feedback and learning from failures to grow and improve. This can be a particularly useful practice for fellows during the course of their scholarly pursuits in clinical research, quality improvement, and medical education. From initial stages of idea development through the final steps of manuscript submission and peer review, fellows will undoubtedly navigate a plethora of challenges and setbacks along the way. Program directors and other core faculty members can promote a growth mindset culture by honestly discussing their own challenges and failures in career endeavors in addition to giving thoughtful constructive feedback.
Fellows should routinely practice explicitly identifying knowledge and skills gaps that represent areas for potential improvement. But perhaps most importantly, fellows must strive to see all feedback and perceived failures not as personal affronts or as commentaries on personal abilities, but rather as opportunities to strengthen their scholarly products and gain valuable experience for future endeavors.
Not all learners will come equipped with a growth mindset. So, what can fellows and program directors in new programs do to develop this practice and mitigate some of the inevitable uncertainty? To begin, program directors should think about how to create cultures of growth and development as the fixed and growth mindsets are not just limited to individuals.3 Program directors can strive to augment this process by committing to solicit feedback for themselves and acknowledging their own vulnerabilities and perceived weaknesses.
Fellows must have early, honest discussions with program directors and other stakeholders about expectations and goals. Program directors should consider creating lists of “must meet” individuals within the institution that can help fellows begin to carve out their roles in the clinical, educational, and research realms. Deliberately crafting a mentorship team that will encourage a commitment to growth and improvement is critical. Seeking out growth feedback, particularly in areas that prove challenging, should become common practice for fellows from the onset.
Most importantly, fellows should reframe uncertainty as opportunity for growth and progression. Seeing oneself as a work in progress provides a new perspective that prioritizes learning and emphasizes improvement potential.
Embodying this approach requires patience and practice. Being part of a newly created fellowship represents an opportunity to learn from personal challenges rather than leaning on the precedent set by previous fellows. And although fellows will often face uncertainty as a part of the novelty within a new program, they can ultimately succeed by practicing the principles of Dweck’s Growth Mindset: embracing challenges and failure as learning experiences, seeking out feedback, and pursuing the opportunities among ambiguity.
Dr. Herchline is a pediatric hospitalist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and recent fellow graduate of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. During fellowship, he completed a master’s degree in medical education at the University of Pennsylvania. His academic interests include graduate medical education, interprofessional collaboration and teamwork, and quality improvement.
1. Klein J et al. A growth mindset approach to preparing trainees for medical error. BMJ Qual Saf. 2017 Sep;26(9):771-4. doi:.
2. Dweck C. Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books; 2006.
3. Murphy MC, Dweck CS. A culture of genius: How an organization’s lay theory shapes people’s cognition, affect, and behavior. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Mar;36(3):283-96. doi:.