Those of you involved in education, medical or otherwise, or those simply engaged in hiring new graduates in any profession have undoubtedly noticed that the young adults of today seem noticeably different from those of even five or six years ago. Maybe you thought it was just you, and you were just getting old and turning into the prototypical curmudgeon. After all, berating the younger generation is probably as old as mankind and undoubtedly has a deep psychological underpinning (they're ascending and you're descending). Well, if you're less than ecstatic about the current crop of college graduates, you're not alone.
First, a brief review of the in vogue generational nomenclature is in order. Although there's no universally agreed upon definition, "baby boomers" are generally considered to be the offspring of post-World War II parents .... that's me. The baby boomers' parents were part of the so-called "Greatest Generation" that built much of the country's infrastructure and firmly established the middle class. "Generation X" represents children born of baby boomers and generally begins in the mid-1960's and extends to the early 1980's. "Generation Y," also called the Millenium Generation, represents children born from the mid 1980's onward. These are the folks now in residencies and applying for jobs.
Although generalizations are never more than just that, there are some rather well-defined generalizations about Gen "Y" that impact how they function in a learning or employment environment.
An article in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of Graduate and Medical Education
addresses the challenges and potential opportunities of teaching Generation "Y." My comments below are derived in part from this article, laced with my own perceptions. The article and comments are based primarily on children raised in North America and it is unclear to what degree, if any, they apply to children in or from other countries. If you are involved with Gen "Y" as a teacher, boss or older colleague, this is must reading! If you're a member of Gen "Y," read what the world thinks of you.... and please do your best to prove them wrong!
Gen "Y" is the first post-911 generation. Its members were over protected and over scheduled from birth. They were raised by parents who told them they were special and winners for no good reason, other than that they were breathing. Every organized childhood activity likely resulted in a trophy, certificate or prize. The result is a group that has little experience handling failure or criticism and incredibly unrealistic expectations about their prospects for the future.
One study has suggested that Gen "Y" requires a highly structured learning environment, which unfortunately seems to be exactly counter to the current movement in medical education towards "guided self discovery." But it has also been said that Gen "Y" does not like to read or attend lectures. Exactly how they are to assimilate the vast amount of knowledge required to practice medicine is thus unclear, and I suspect many WON'T learn what they should.
Educators and the business world are likely to view Gen "Y" as lazy, unmotivated, unprofessional, and selfish. Not exactly a glowing set of personal qualities, and not exactly the qualities suited to the self-sacrifice, deferred gratification, and long hours necessary to master the field of medicine.
Gen "Y's" often like to form close associations with authority figures just as they did with their parents. The result is that mentoring Gen "Y" is much more like parenting than a traditional teacher - pupil relationship. Gen "Y's" have been taught that their opinions are always valid and OK to share with anyone without regard to organizational hierarchy. They feel free to espouse critical comments to anyone from the cleaning staff to the departmental Chair. Needless to say, dealing with this style of communication can be problematic in a hierachical setting.
The unfortunate reality is that Gen "Y's" seem, as a group, to have a level of immaturity and real world naivete that requires successful program directors in the educational realm and managers in the business world to function "in loco parentis" (in place of parents), with all of the high maintenance efforts that requires. As if the often thankless job of program director weren't hard enough with the ever increasing mounds of paperwork required by accrediting agencies, "parenting" the trainees also requires an additional major commitment in time. Program directors deserve our undying thanks. I hope that they don't undergo "Gen-Y" burn out.