Gill cardiologist on the power of optimism and what makes her optimistic

Gretchen Wells

For this week's Making the Rounds, we caught up with Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the Women’s Heart Health program at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute. Dr. Wells is a non-invasive cardiologist who treats women across the lifespan. Currently, she’s exploring psychologic attributes – specifically the role of optimism – in cardiovascular disease outcomes. Here she talks about everything from the power of optimism to the music and books that speak to her.

Tell us about your research.

I’m focused on the role of optimism, which is what gets me out of bed in the morning. This dates to when I was working at Wake Forest University. What I noticed is that among inpatients, you could have two people with the exact same set of problems, both of whom would have advanced heart failure. Some would absolutely thrive with it, and others would just wither away and die. They would have the same biomarkers, the same medications and so on, and I often asked what was the difference.

Hilary Tindle, MD, who’s now at Vanderbilt, is now a collaborator. She has completed interesting work within the Women’s Health Initiative (a long-term national health study), where she found that patients who were more optimistic did better in terms of their cardiac outcomes than those who were less optimistic.

What have you found so far?

What we have identified in some early work here among our heart failure patients at UK is that those who are more optimistic are significantly less likely to be re-admitted. It turns out you can train people to become more optimistic. It’s trait-like – it’s not truly a trait, so you can change people’s way of thinking. We’re collaborating with the College of Nursing in a pilot study to explore ways that we can teach people to become more optimistic. There are different methods to do that. We’re not wanting to make people more optimistic just for the sake of making them more optimistic. That’s great, but we’re wanting to link this with hard outcomes. We want to improve their mortality, their heart failure and so on.

What led you to this research?

When I was an intern, I read the work of Viktor Frankl. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes how we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control our response, and that’s something that’s resonated all through my career in medicine.

What movie makes you optimistic?

The King’s Speech. King George VI overcame adversity through sheer grit and determination.

Favorite type of music?

Of course, I like Bob Dylan. I like a lot of the old ones, like the Staples Singers, the Beatles, Arlo Guthrie, Aaron Neville and Van Morrison. Any good songwriters, the classics – those are the ones that I like.

Favorite book?

It has to be To Kill a Mockingbird.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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