A New Generation of Physicians

Posted on August 21, 2017 by Shawn Friday, MEd, LPC, CEAP

Updated April 22, 2020

The Intergenerational Workforce

Among the many changes physicians face today is the changing face of the physician. Once known as the exclusive white male workforce in the United States, the physician workforce has become more female, more varied in country of origin, more racially diverse and more “Millennial.” Let’s look at the latest generation of doctors entering the field.

Millennials are a group born generally between 1981 and 1995 - give or take a couple years depending on who you ask. This makes them between 22 and 36 years old and an increasingly influential force in society. They have become the largest generational group in the general workforce. Some have become physicians and many more are on the way as they complete their extensive training.

Trends and Statistics

In making their prediction of future trends in the physician workforce, Staff Care1 takes into consideration the wave of expected retirements in coming years. They cite AMA Master File/MMS data indicating 39.3% of physicians being at least 55 years of age. Almost one quarter is 60 or over and 11.2% are 65 or older. This certainly will have an impact on the overall makeup of the workforce as the incoming wave of Millennials comes in to replace them.

Like the workforce in general, medicine now employs as many as five generations, commonly known as Silent, Baby Boomer, Generation X, Generation Y or Millennial and the newest group where a consensus on a name has yet to occur; I use Generation Z. The presence of these multiple generations provides an organization with greater potential of effectiveness by drawing on the various strengths each brings to the workplace.

Intergenerational Conflicts

On the other hand, a fair share of conflicts in the workplace stem from a difference in values between the generations. For example, Sherman2 states the Millennials “…are not afraid to voice opinions in any circumstance. The unwritten rules other generations follow in the workplace aren’t ‘picked up’ by this generation.” Sherman reviews common perceptions about the different generations and what we should know when interacting with them in a medical setting.

She shares eight tips for enhancing intergenerational understanding:

  1. Provide training and resources to increase knowledge of the beliefs and values of other generations
  2. Ensure people understand information is to enhance general understanding
  3. Understand your own generation’s traits and how others may view them
  4. Discuss how patients of various generations might impact practice regarding safety, communication, professionalism and privacy
  5. Help staff recognize their own “knee jerk” reactions to different values/behaviors of others
  6. With conflicts, focus on behaviors and avoid personal attacks
  7. Encourage flexible communication methods. Without forcing it, help everyone understand situations where a certain way of communicating is preferred, even if it goes against a person’s tendency.
  8. Develop strategies for retention and mechanisms of reward/recognition to support a diverse workforce

While it may be implied from these tips, a couple points should be clarified. One is the organization and individuals should be engaging in conversations specific to generational differences and how to work with them. I would add individual traits to this conversation as well, as they may or may not fit the person’s own generation. Although I am a “Gen X’r” does not necessarily mean I fit all the tendencies of the cohort. A second thing to keep in mind is our tendency at times to assign meaning or tell a story about another’s behavior; an assumption which is likely to be incorrect. The only way to know what is behind an act is to check it out.  Never assume bad intentions or motives; the behavior may simply be what is normal in the other person’s eyes.

So, what might be good to know about this new wave of doctors? In his look at Millennials in medicine3, Jeffrey Bendix asked physicians from various generations (including many Millennials) about their tips for working with millennials:

  1. A 31-year-old doctor states his generation is a lot more comfortable looking up information in the moment on their phones. Comfort with technology can also be a problem if a patient feels ignored, according to a 35-year-old practitioner. Twitter is also more commonly used. Millennials are used to having a lot of information about themselves out there, so organizations will need to set guidelines for appropriate social media use.
  2. Millennials are and will be seeking more work/life balance. They want to be able to let go of work when not at work. They are tending to take more positions of a part-time nature or full-time positions with less hours.
  3. Millennials are more willing to question authority and established procedures. They want to know the meaning behind the actions. It is not questioning just for the sake of questioning. It is a bona fide attempt to maximize effectiveness.
  4. Longevity in the field or position is not an automatic reason for respect and honor. It is to be earned with present day actions and know-how.
  5. Many in this generation grew up within a climate of continuous praise and positive reinforcement and may expect this in the workplace. Managers will need to be clear about how and when good work is recognized.
  6. They prefer to help with solving problems rather than be told the solution. Include them.

As older generations retire and are replaced by the Millennial generation, the need for understanding differences and the strengths of each generation will be crucial; and in a few years, we will see what the coming wave of Generation Z will bring!

For further information on the generations in the medical workplace see:

  1. Appold K. Effective Communication among Different Generations. The Rheumatologist. http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/effective-communication-among-different-generations/?singlepage=1. Published February 10, 2017.
  2. Sopher M. How Doctors Differ by Generation. Rendia. https://blog.rendia.com/how-doctors-differ-by-generation/. Published March 31, 2016.
  3. Nursing Leadership and Generational Differences. Bradley University Online. http://onlinedegrees.bradley.edu/resources/infographics/nurse-leadership-through-multi-generational-differences/. Published August 9, 2016.

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1StaffCare. Women in Medicine: A Review of Changing Physician Demographics, Female Physicians by Specialty, State and Related Data. https://www.staffcare.com/women-in-medicine-changing-physician-demographics-white-paper/. Published 2015. Accessed July 1, 2017.

2Sherman C. When Generations Collide: Examining the Impact of the Multigenerational Workforce. Physician Connection. 2015; 4: 1-4. https://www.psicinsurance.com/webres/File/physicians/9653-MD%20Connection%20Nwsltr%20Issue4-all.pdf

3Bendix J. Millennials in medicine. Medical Economics. http://medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/news/millennials-medicine?page=0%2C1. Published November 25, 2015.

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