The last few years have seen no shortage of think pieces about how millennials are changing our world and our culture. From changes in social norms, to their embrace of technology to “killing” various industries, there’s a fascination with how this young generation (myself included) is leaving their mark on our society. There have also been several articles concerned with how our generation is changing the medical profession. Many of the writers of these pieces portray similar notions about us as a generation: that we are self-absorbed narcissists more interested in self-promotion than doing a good job; that rather than work as hard as the generation before us, we are content to do the bare minimum, whilst at the same time demanding concessions to make our lives and jobs more comfortable. Some of the authors seemed to sum up the professional approach of our entire generation by the ethos of “me, me, me,” and that this was incompatible with being a good physician.
While I absolutely value the wisdom of our more seasoned counterparts, I feel their appraisal of our generation as a whole might need to be rethought. May I present to you the following points:
Millennials: You might be one
The term “millennial” was originally coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their 1991 book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. The authors define millennials as anyone born between 1982 and 2004. Other sources have widened this age group to include people born during and after 1978. While many of the articles I mentioned before focus on medical students and residents, we should keep in mind that many millennials are now experienced physicians.
Culture is shifting, and we’re shifting with it
Medicine does not exist in a vacuum. All one need do is look around and witness broad and sweeping changes to our society to know that medicine will never be what it once was. Whether it be the #metoo movement, heightened visibility and advocacy for transgender people, or the multiple humanitarian and refugee crises going on around the world, these huge events, new moral dilemmas and cultural shifts will no doubt play a role in how we support our patients and practice our profession. Millennials are at the forefront of many new movements and have come up in a time when having a broad vocabulary about these issues was the norm. I see examples, almost daily, of how my millennial peers are leading our colleagues in efforts to make medicine more inclusive, and more culturally competent for our patients.
So much of the way we practice medicine has been changed by the advent of new technologies. This is true now more than ever before with increased accessibility and portability of information, whether it be the ability to search the medical literature at the click of a button or the vast array of information available to patients (whether it be bad or good) on the internet. While our forerunners saw the beginning of this change, millennials will have to see it through. I have witnessed many more senior physician lament new technological advances such as EMR. In contrast, our generation thrives when using technology to achieve our goals since it has always been part of our world. I also predict that the technology we use to practice medicine will become more streamlined and easy to use as our generation takes the lead in designing these systems.
Millennial doctors for millennial patients
One of my attendings once told me, “When you go into practice, your patients will start to look like you.” This really stuck with me, and I see it every day in my own clinic. With every new generation of doctors, there is also a new generation of patients. While this is not a millennial-specific phenomenon, it is obvious that millennial physicians will be the best equipped to understand patients of our own generation beyond their medical conditions, having more insight into how their individual diagnoses, symptomatology and treatment plans will affect their lives.
We may have the solution to physician burnout
While millennials are, for the most part, career-oriented, there has been a new emphasis within our generation towards preserving the individual at the center of the profession. This sentiment has taken several forms, including the ubiquity of “self care” within the millennial generation to new hours restrictions and other regulations within in medicine. I’m sure most of you have had the pleasure of listening to an attending from a demanding specialty talk about how there were no hours restrictions years ago, leading to 48 hour shifts with no sleep, and in their opinion, better training. I know I’ve heard more than one elder physician go on about how medical training has taken a loss without these grueling conditions. However, it is no wonder that burnout and depression are so common within our profession. We often place the demands of our career above ourselves, and many end up paying for it in the end.
I’m optimistic about the fact that my millennial peers often speak up and speak out about valuing self care. We, as a generation, have realized that sacrificing our own wellbeing does not make us better doctors, but rather unhappy and burnt-out technicians just going through the motions. Unfortunately, this viewpoint is often read by those more senior to us as “laziness” or an aversion to dedicating oneself fully to one’s work. I invite these physicians to try to put themselves back in our shoes, and see how dedicating time and energy to oneself can help one put even more effort into helping their patients.
We are not a monolith
Lastly, I want to draw attention to the fact that millennials, just like any other age group, are not monolithic and that especially holds true in regards to millennial physicians. There is wide variation in our behavior, opinions, and our approach to the medical profession, so it’s best to keep your preconceived notions to a minimum. It is also typical for every generation to be critical of the one that comes after it, so try to remember yourself as you were when you were just starting out as a new doctor. Remember the criticism that your superiors gave you, and try to emulate the ways in which it was helpful and applicable rather than generalized and trivial.