Millennials get a lot of attention these days. In the workplace, they are at the center of conversations about how to attract and retain them as employees and how to adapt workplace practices to their new paradigms. In almost every consumer industry, countless hours are spent discussing how to reach them as customers and how to earn their loyalty (and dollars). And now, millennials are starting to take over the medical field, too. About 15% of physicians in the U.S. are under the age of 35, and almost all current doctors-in-training are millennials.
Some of the issues with millennials in medicine are the same issues found in any field. First and foremost, millennials want work-life balance. The medical field, which is notoriously bad at such things, has to become more flexible with scheduling and on-call duties in order to attract young doctors. Without that flexibility, the number of new doctors going into full-time clinical practice will continue to decline (it’s already down 4% since 2009). Millennials simply won’t risk burnout for the sake of a larger paycheck.
Millennials also want meaning in their work. This means they are likely to be more interested in focusing on their clinical practice than in taking on administrative duties. Fewer young doctors are opening their own practices these days; instead, they prefer to be employees, with the freedom that goes with that status.
Millennials are, of course, the most tech-savvy generation yet. This may actually be a mixed blessing. On the plus side, it bodes well for the adoption of electronic medical records and mobile technologies. Millennials are also more data-driven in how they solve problems. On the down side, patients may feel that their young doctors are spending too much time staring at the computer in the exam room. Some millennial doctors may also need to be reminded not to post information on social media that could be a breach of patient privacy.
Millennials, who are far more likely than Baby Boomers or Gen X-ers to look at Yelp-style reviews of doctors, also take a more patient-centered approach to practicing medicine. They are likely to balk at only spending 5 minutes with each patient, and they will push for customer service-oriented improvements for health care facilities (such as child care and mobile appointment reminders). This is all good news for patients.
Finally, millennials are team players, but they want to know the reasons behind their marching orders. Open communication, transparency, inclusive problem solving, and clear expectations are key to having productive working relationships with millennial doctors.
Despite the bad rap they sometimes get, the changes being wrought in the medical profession by millennials appear to be moving medicine in a positive direction, both for the doctors themselves and, importantly, for patients.