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An attitude to gratitude

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, of acknowledgement, a readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. Many would say that we do Emergency Medicine ‘for the cause, not the applause’, but the truth is we are social creatures who thrive by being connected and appreciated. In many business studies, feeling appreciated is the number one reason for employees being engaged or happy at work. Gratitude can also quickly encourage a culture of reciprocity.

We are brought up as children to say thank you and it becomes a habit or a social nicety. You probably say ‘thank you’ a lot at work, but gratitude is not just the action of saying two words. It’s a deeper appreciation. I want you to think about the last time that someone showed you meaningful thanks that touched or inspired you. What were the ingredients of great gratefulness? Gratitude is magnified if it is unexpected; sincere; if there is no perceived obligation to say thank you; and the provider has made the gesture individualized and specific so it really means something special to the receiver.

We also need to recognize gratitude on a personal level. Real happiness isn’t something large and looming on the horizon ahead, but is here already in the form of everyday little joys. A terrible shift in ED might bring the joy of a coffee that someone buys you because they know you weren’t going to get a break, the seamless referral of a patient to a known difficult specialty; and the fact that you get to go home on time to drink in the garden with the sun on your face.

So in the next week see if you can deliver heartfelt gratitude or write a thank you letter and reflect on how it makes you feel. When you are travelling home from work, try to pick out three things that went well during your shift and see how you can reframe your thoughts from a complaining mode to a best outcomes mindset.


Caroline is a Consultant in Emergency Medicine at University Hospital Coventry. She is a pre-hospital doctor with the Air Ambulance Service in the West Midlands, and regional Training Programme Director for Pre-Hospital Emergency Medicine.

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