Growth Mindset: Creating a Foundation for Self-Empathy in Generation Z Physical Therapy Students
Purpose: Generation Z, comprised of individuals born in 1995 and later, has been described as the most culturally diverse generation in history.1 Since birth, individuals in this generation have only known a world with smartphones and instant gratification.1,2 They are multi-taskers who seek deeper personal relationships and face to face interactions as they have lacked these in their personal lives due to a reliance on technology and social media.2,3 Generation Z is accustomed to constant and immediate feedback, often struggling when feedback is delayed or critical in nature.1,2 This difficulty with accepting feedback, a fear of making mistakes and failure, often leads to anxiety in our students. Anxiety is now the top concern reported among college students at 41.6%, surpassing depression as the top concern.4 As this generation completes the requirements of physical therapy education programs, with the rigors of spiraling curriculums and clinical experiences, students will need to demonstrate the ability to make decisions in the moment, interact with a diverse number of people, and meet the academic standards set by the institution. Long-term, this generation of students will be entering a workforce that has been shown to have an increased rate of burnout. The authors feel that growth mindset training provides a unique opportunity for real change in the perception of stress and potential burnout rates, providing practical strategies to decrease stress and anxiety, approaching potentially stressful situations with a changed frame of mind; one that embraces mistakes and views them as an opportunity for growth. Growth mindset is the belief that a person’s abilities, intellect, and personality are not stagnant, but malleable and able to change over time. Growth mindset training has been implemented in elementary, middle, and high schools to improve learning outcomes and shift individual students’ beliefs regarding their own abilities and potential.5 Medical schools have been implementing mindfulness and self-compassion training to decrease stress, anxiety, and burnout rates.6 Growth mindset training serves as a method to teach students to re-frame their approach to novel and stressful situations, practice self-empathy by embracing mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, and decrease rates of burnout as clinicians by maintaining these practices beyond physical therapy education and into their professional lives. The purpose of this presentation is to describe a model that threads growth mindset education, training, and opportunities for implementation throughout a physical therapy education program. Methods and/or Description of Project: Growth mindset was introduced into the curriculum of one cohort of students (n=88) over two separate courses. The concept of growth versus fixed mindset was initiated in a course immediately prior to entrance into the professional phase of a physical therapy education program. Following a video, lecture, and in class discussion on the topic, students completed a mindset quiz to identify their current attitude toward abilities, novel situations, and potential for change. This was followed by an assignment with guided reflection on their own mindset and experiences. In class discussion focused on how a shift towards growth mindset could benefit students academically as they entered the professional phase of the program, taking graduate level coursework and beginning both part-time and full-time clinical experiences. During this current semester, in a subsequent course, growth mindset was again discussed in greater depth as it relates to the concepts of professional development, continued skill development, and avoiding burnout. Students will complete another assignment reflecting on their academic and clinical experiences in their first professional year and changes that they have made since the first assignment prior to any physical therapy coursework. Evidence of a shift in students’ approach to learning will be assessed by the emergence of themes from student statements in course evaluations and student reflections and by the number of students participating in elective clinical care courses. Students within the physical therapy education program have reported hesitancy to participate in elective clinical experiences early in the curriculum due to fear of making mistakes and operating outside of their comfort zones, indicative of a fixed mindset. When students approach these situations with a growth mindset, they are more likely to participate in elective clinical experiences, while welcoming the challenge and realizing the opportunity for growth that these experiences provide. Outcomes of student learning and growth will be evaluated with mixed methods. Results/Outcomes: Following the introduction of growth mindset in the first course, student statements on the topic were positive. Students appreciated that the course encouraged self-reflection and independent thinking, noting that assignments elicited this reflection regarding their mindset and student experience. As the professional courses began, immediately following the introduction to growth mindset, students were asked to identify their top three learning goals in a musculoskeletal course. Of the top ten themes that emerged, 50% directly reflected growth mindset notions. Students in this cohort also took full advantage of on-campus elective clinical experiences during this first semester of their physical therapy curriculum, signifying a willingness to step out of their comfort zones and seek out novel experiences. Of the 89 seats that were offered to the cohort in elective patient care courses in the fall semester, all were spoken for. Prior to the introduction of growth mindset, student registration for these patient care courses was low. After the information was provided and the clinical experiences were re-framed as an opportunity for growth and development, students were more inclined to participate and registration numbers rose. Qualitative themes emerging from reflection assignments in both courses will be analyzed following completion of the second course this spring. Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: As Generation Z enters physical therapy education programs and the general workforce, they must be prepared to face frequent challenges and an ever-changing healthcare landscape. Growth mindset training provides students and clinicians with a tool to address challenges with self-compassion and has the potential to decrease anxiety and burnout throughout physical therapy education programs and clinical careers. This training can be integrated throughout physical therapy education curriculum and built upon to provide time for self-assessment, reflection, and implementation strategies that span the classroom and clinic. As health professional programs, including medical schools, seek ways to decrease stress, anxiety, and burnout in both students and practitioners within their fields, a shift from a fixed to a growth mindset has the potential to address each of these issues. A growth mindset allows an individual to practice self-empathy and compassion by accepting feedback and mistakes, re-framing them as opportunities for learning and growth. Growth mindset has the potential to impact burnout in these individuals long-term as they are able to decrease the amount of stress and anxiety perceived from frequent healthcare responsibilities.