Currently, doctors from as many as four different generations may be working side-by-side. A few members of the Greatest Generation are still practicing medicine, though many are retiring and passing the torch to the Baby Boomers they trained, as well as Generation X and now millennials. As the youngest generation, born in the 1980s to the early 2000s, millennials are also the largest at more than 80 million.
Millennials are often saddled with negative connotations, but in reality they have differences and strengths that their older counterparts don’t. Read on to learn what makes this generation tick, and why their unique skills offer great promise for the future of health care.
The pros and cons of tech expertise
One criticism of millennials in general and millennial doctors in particular is that they are too dependent on technology. There is some truth to this, but their expertise in this area is also a great asset. Ophthalmology is among the medical specialties that have changed drastically over the past few years due to technological advancements. This has required residents to learn to use tools that did not even exist when their older colleagues were in residency.
Uday Devgan, M.D., who trains residents at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at the UCLA School of Medicine, said that the field of ophthalmology is tougher now than it has ever been. “Every year, without a doubt, residents have gotten smarter than the previous years … now, the residents have to learn what I learned and things that did not exist back then.” This includes toric lenses, diffractive multifocal lenses, anti-vascular endothelial growth factor injections, and OCT machines, Devgan said on Healio.com, where he is the Ocular Surgery News editor.
However, their older colleagues fear that these newly trained ophthalmologists may be relying too heavily on technology. Ehsan Rahimy, M.D., of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, said he has seen instances of younger ophthalmologists depending too much on the new imaging modalities instead of using traditional examination techniques. “Technology is amazing, there is no doubt of that. But nothing substitutes what we can see as clinicians with our very own eyes,” he told Healio.com.
Seeking better work-life balance
Another common characteristic of millennials that is sometimes perceived as a negative is their strong desire for work-life balance. “The millennial ophthalmologists have a broader and more global view of life and practice that is different from previous generations. To this group, work life is a part of life — not all of life,” Marjan Farid, M.D., director of Cornea, Cataract and Refractive Surgery at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, University of California, Irvine, told Healio.com.
This does not mean that millennials have a weak work ethic, however, say those who work with them. “In my experience, the millennials are extremely bright and well trained. While in many cases working fewer hours, they work hard and smart when in the clinic and operating room,” wrote Richard L. Lindstrom, M.D., in a different article on Healio.com. This may be partly due to the fact that millennials know how to leverage technology to save time and streamline their practice.
“To my observation, including my millennial partners, my children and their friends, the typical millennial is confident, tolerant, optimistic, digitally native and skilled, politically correct, tactful, close to their parents, and an excellent friend and partner.” Lindstrom advocates for the need for guidance and mentorship of millennials by their older colleagues.
Highly in-demand employees
Their unwillingness to devote their entire lives to work is also what’s driving millennial doctors’ post-residency decisions. While the traditional route for older-generation doctors—especially ophthalmologists—was to start their own practice, this is no longer the case. Rather, more ophthalmologists are seeking employment at already established practices or larger health care organizations such as Kaiser Permanente.
Additionally, changing reimbursements and fee schedules are pushing younger doctors into large group health care practices, where the daily headaches of running a business can be avoided, reports Healio.com. “The pride, passion, and time that older ophthalmologists put in to build an empire practice is not readily seen in the millennial group,” said Marjan Farid, M.D., director of Cornea, Cataract and Refractive Surgery at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, University of California, Irvine.
Millennial ophthalmologists are in a position to be choosy about their employment, because they are in high demand due to the growing number of aging patients, cataract surgeries, and Baby Boomer ophthalmologists who are nearing retirement. Practices looking to recruit millennial doctors need to understand that salary typically ranks lowest among their priorities.
Teamwork, collaboration, and career growth are generally more important to millennials. Employers should consider such offerings as “a mentorship program to provide continual learning opportunities or protected time to serve on a committee related to a provider’s niche interest,” advises Becker’s Hospital Review.
Millennial doctors’ future looks bright
This generation of doctors is young, smart, and—with guidance—poised to take on the current and future challenges of health care, say their colleagues.
“I have no worries that in the future, when it is time for my own cataract surgeries, one of these millennials will do an amazing job for me. They are among the smartest residents I have ever trained, they have a fabulous work ethic, and I like that they understand the work-life balance,” said Devgan.
Lindstrom noted that it’s important for his Baby Boomer colleagues to help millennial ophthalmologists develop their leadership, business, and political skills. “This will not only benefit our practices and profession, but also be in the best interests of our patients, our communities, and society as a whole. There will be no shortage of challenges to face over the next 40 years in medicine and our specialty of ophthalmology, but based on my observation, I am quite confident the millennial generation of ophthalmologists will be up to the task and will meet them.”
For more articles on the future of medicine, subscribe to our newsletter.