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Millennials

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Millennials and GenXers are changing the dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship.

The Millennial Generation – known for its disdain of hierarchical structures and preference for collegiality – is becoming a catalyst for changes in the doctor-patient relationship, as well.

So says Kimberly Petrovic, assistant professor of nursing at Southern, who also has 14 years of clinical experience in the nursing field. She has been a registered nurse in three states – Tennessee, Oregon and for the last 11 years, in Connecticut.

For those of you of a younger vintage, peppering your doctor or nurse with questions may seem like second nature. But to your parents or grandparents, such questioning was more the exception than the rule

“Traditionally, most patients did not ask a lot of questions of their doctors, and rarely challenged a diagnosis or medical advice,” Petrovic says. “In general, we still see that with the older generations – the Baby Boomers and especially the pre-Baby Boomers (Traditionalists).
“But times are changing, and I’ve seen significant changes over the last 14 years. The Millennials (adults in their early 30s and younger) are more questioning than the older generations and seek more interpersonal collaborations with their health care providers – whether it be doctors, nurses or nurse practitioners. Gen Xers (those generally in their mid-30s to 50) also grew up questioning everything, so the combination is leading to a different dynamic in those relationships.”

Petrovic notes that she has seen more people – especially Millennials and Generation Xers (the generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials) – checking out their symptoms or diagnoses online, often before they talk with their health care provider.

“Some doctors and nurses fear that a little information can be a dangerous thing in the hands of those who are not medical experts,” she says. “And you do have to be careful not to put a lot of credence in questionable websites. But there are some very reputable websites that can be helpful for patients when understood in the right context.”

She points to: www.webmd.com and www.mayoclinic.org as two examples of valuable medical websites.

The key is to understand the context of what you are reading. For example, you may have a pain in your left arm. And a heart attack may be one of the possibilities, but it’s also a symptom of a sore muscle or tendon. If in doubt, checking with a medical professional is usually wise.

“I believe patients should play an active role in their health care,” Petrovic adds. “Medical experts should be respected for their knowledge and experience. But patients shouldn’t be discouraged from educating themselves, or discussing what they found with their doctors.”

Petrovic says she also is seeing somewhat of a change from the professional side, as well. As the younger generations become medical professionals themselves, there is a greater propensity for them to be more comfortable with a “circle dynamic,” rather than the traditional, semi-authoritarian approach.

“These are generalizations, of course, based on generations,” she says. “Certainly, there are many exceptions. Some older medical workers are very adaptable and willing to approach their patients in a more collegial manner. And some younger people in the medical field may be less tolerant. But as a whole, the generational differences that we see in society – at school, at work, at home – are gradually influencing the medical field, as well.”

Petrovic adds that these societal changes coincide with easier accessibility to one’s medical records in recent years. While a person’s medical records have always been available, the greater use of electronic records has made the process of checking one’s medical history easier for many patients.

For more than a decade, colleges and the business world have been trying to adjust to the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial Generation – those who were born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s.

The differences among the generations often create misunderstandings.

For example, that sense of independence – if you want to do it right, do it yourself approach — brought to the workplace by Generation X (born from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s) was clashing with the collegial ethos of the Millennials. And unlike the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to the early 1960s), who put a lot of value in working long hours at the office, Millennials place a higher premium on getting the job done efficiently.

Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.
Keynote speaker Kim Lear talks about generational differences during a recent forum at Southern.

For Boomers and Xers, the unwritten rules at work said that as you climbed the hierarchical ladder, you would be involved in discussions of higher importance. That workplace culture is almost anathema to Millennials, who want to be part of those discussions from their earliest days at an organization. They prefer a collegial, more horizontal organizational.

The differences among the generations are often stark. But just as some organizations have learned to adjust to the Millennials’ expectations and create a more peaceful co-existence among the generations, a new generation with its own trends and traits is beginning to emerge.

Generation Edge – those who were born since the mid-1990s – is about to enter colleges starting next year. And some have already joined the workforce.

Will they be like the Millennial Generation – tech savvy, team-oriented, optimistic and with high expectations? While they are likely to be even more technologically advanced, the early indications are that they are quite different in many respects.

Cheshire High School students -- members of Generation Edge -- share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).
Cheshire High School students — members of Generation Edge — share a moment with Kim Lear (standing, fourth from left).

That subject was among those discussed recently at Southern during a forum, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The forum looked at the characteristics of the various generations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Kim Lear, an expert on generational trends and changes for a Minnesota-based company called BridgeWorks, gave the audience a glimpse into what the early research says about Generation Edge, sometimes referred to as Generation Z or NetGen.

She pointed to three budding trends:

*The brains of today’s youth may actually be changing, probably as a result of their technological immersion. Lear said that while people often refer to “multitasking” as a skill, it is not something the human brain can actually do. She notes that the actual skill should be called “switch tasking,” which is based on how much or little effectiveness you lose in between tasks, such as doing your homework while reading your text messages and watching part of a television show. “There are Harvard studies so far showing that GenEdgers are losing significantly less (effectiveness) than the rest of us do,” Lear said. “This is a function of their brain that other brains may not actually have.”

*GenEdgers may be able to create authentic, meaningful relationships with people via Skype and other technological devices in which people can see each other, even though they may be physically a long distance away from each other. “When the virtual world was becoming really big, there were a lot of studies to see if human beings can create relationships through a screen,” Lear said. “The conclusion was basically ‘no.’ But there is a study being done right now on young children and their relationships with their grandparents. There are some kids who are spending a lot of time on FaceTime and Skype and who only see each other once or twice a year. There are some theorists who are projecting that this may be the first generation that can build real connections with people through a screen. That obviously would completely change the workplace and even the marketplace over the next 15 or 20 years.”

*While Millennials are known for having a collaborative spirit, GenEdgers have a much more competitive spirit. This may be due to a change in parenting styles. Baby Boomers are largely the parents of Millennials, while GenXers are usually the parents of GenEdgers. Lear pointed out that GenXers are known for their straightforward, no sugar-coating style of communication. “We are actually seeing that their direct style of communication is exactly how they are speaking to their kids,” Lear said. “And when we are talking with 12-year-olds, their knowledge of the recession is unbelievable. Their parents are telling them money doesn’t grow on trees. Student loans exist. And these kids know that they’re not just competing for jobs with the people sitting next to them. They’re competing for jobs with kids in China who can do with that they can do, maybe better, and for less. That is going to have a huge impact on the way that people work and what they are motivated by in the future.”

The following is a chart of the 20th and 21st century generations, the corresponding birth years and the characteristics/milestones of each: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum-gen.html

Much has been written about the Millennial Generation – those who were born roughly between 1980 and 2000. We plan to talk about some of the trends of the Millennials – also known as Generation Y — in future posts. But one aspect of this generation that hasn’t garnered as much discussion as some of the other characteristics is its consumer tendencies.

Mel Princeblogmillennialconsumersphoto, professor of marketing at Southern, says this generation is more “cosmopolitan” than others. By cosmopolitan, he means that the kids of today see themselves as “citizens of the world” more than in the past. Strictly speaking, of course, there are no citizens of the world. People are citizens of a particular country, or in some cases, more than one country. We are inhabitants of the world.

And Millennials – like those of previous generations — do identify themselves in this country as Americans. Nevertheless, they tend to see things through more of a global lens than do other generations, according to many experts. The consensus thus far is that they also place more of an emphasis on global issues than previous generations and are more likely to accept and participate in a diversity of cultural activities. They enjoy sampling life in a variety of neighborhoods throughout America and in communities around the globe.

And that interaction includes eating and shopping at establishments that are authentically from other cultures, rather than chain restaurants or retail operations.

Prince suggests that businesses should consider this trend when marketing to this new generation.

He offers the following recommendations:

  • Use high tech media as never before. Sure, the world has embraced the use of Facebook, Twitter, the Internet and other forms of advanced technological communication devices. But it is intertwined in the lives of Millennials in an unparalleled way. If you want to communicate with the Millennials, use of social media is more than just important — it’s critical.
  • Stress authenticity of products. Just as they prefer the “real deal” in consumerism when traveling abroad, Millennials also have more of an allegiance to independently-owned businesses at home.
  • Emphasize sustainability in business motives. Putting aside the cultural debate on the cause of climate change, today’s youth seem to be more concerned about the potential consequences than in past generations. They tend to place more value in businesses that highlight respect for the condition of the planet.
  • Employ urban cosmopolitan atmospheres in advertising messages. Generally speaking, Millennials seem to embrace life in the cities more than those of the Baby Boom Generation or Generation X. Therefore, it can be helpful to use cosmopolitan themes and stress the big city atmosphere when marketing to Millennials.
  • Use sophisticated brand messages that reflect increased cultural capital of this generation. Millennials are generally more comfortable and more attuned with the cultures of other races, ethnicities and nations. This sophistication should be represented in any marketing campaign toward Millennials.

Question to Millennials and non-Millennials alike: What are your thoughts and experiences pertaining to the new generation in the work place? Are they appreciably different from Baby Boomers and Gen Xers? If so, how?