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Generation Gaps on the Medical Staff May Affect Physician Recruitment

Health Governance Report, September 10, 2009

Medical staffs today consist of a blend of four generations: the World War II Silent Generation (1925–1942), baby boomers (1943–1961), Generation X (1962–1981), and Generation Y (1982–1998).

Each generation brings with it a different work ethic, mode of communication, and definitions of professionalism and loyalty. If you're unaware of these generational differences or don't accept that they are sitting on your doorstep, they could stymie your recruitment efforts.

Differences include learning, teaching, and communication style, approach to clinical schedules, concept of work-life balance, academic and personal motivation, level of control of the work experience, and effective productivity incentives, according to "The Impact of New-Generation Physicians on the Function of Academic Anesthesiology Departments," which appeared in the December 2007 Current Opinion in Anesthesiology.

The first thing you need to know about generational and, therefore, cultural differences between older and younger physicians is that you can't change them.

"If you attempt to change someone else's culture, you are going to be in for a long fight," says Phillip Kibort, MD, MBA, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis and St. Paul. "The best leaders are the ones who work with these differences as opposed to trying to change them."

Second, Generation X and Y are changing the definition of professionalism and loyalty. The Silent Generation and baby boomers generally consider medicine a calling and have dedicated their lives to their practice. Gen Xers and Yers, however, probably regard medicine as a career or job. They want to take time off for volunteer work, work 8 a.m.–5 p.m., and play an active role in their families.

"We now have two very discrepant ideas of what a professional is, and they are both right," says Tracy Sanson, MD, FACEP, associate professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Gen Xers and Yers also grew up in the age of Sam's Club and eBay, and they're loyal to a brand as long as that brand delivers on their ever-increasing expectations. If a brand fails to satisfy, they look for a better deal, and that goes for jobs too.

And this is probably a good thing. Gen X and Y have forced the medical community to introduce creative recruitment and retention strategies, such as paternity leave, flex time, and part-time schedules, which Sanson says is desperately needed to attract future generations of physicians. This flexibility is also good for older generations, who are faced with the challenge of caring for ailing parents.

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