Blog | Thursday, December 29, 2016

Millennials are really not different

We baby boomers have much in common with our predecessors. Every generation seems to think that the newest generation does not measure up to their great standard. My friend and colleague Goop Dhaliwal wrote a wonderful paper in JAMA, “The Greatest Generation“.

It is possible that in the days of giants, the narrator did unsupervised burr holes as an intern and had mastered the physical examination by the second year of residency. Beware, though, that each time we replay those autobiographical memories about our training, we are prone to make the situation more harrowing or ourselves more dedicated or skillful than the last iteration. These war stories are frequently told with confidence, detail, and emotion, which makes them far more believable—but that doesn't make them any more accurate.

But this is not just Goop's opinion. This wonderful article should shatter that myth: “Boomers Don't Work Any Harder Than Millennials“.

Well, according to a new meta-analysis, there's no real generational difference in work ethic between millennials and baby boomers (or even Gen-Xers!). Published this week in the Journal of Business and Psychology, a research team led by Wayne State University and Ford Motor Company researcher Keith L. Zabel analyzed a whopping 77 studies and some 105 measures of work ethic.

The researchers were evaluating a secularized version of the Protestant work ethic, which states that work is central to life, that if you work hard you'll find success, and that you should delay gratification and rely on yourself. The Protestant work ethic is kind of a big deal to American history.

We have heard multiple talks on how we should treat this generation differently. But my experience suggests that students have not changed over the past 36 years. Medical students and residents generally work hard, and want to become excellent physicians. During medical school and residency we had some slackers back in the 70s. We still have some slackers. But the majority have always the same desire and work ethic.

So we should all avoid this new bias when we work with the newest generation. We should continue to treat students and residents with respect and expect the best. Generally they will impress us with their work ethic and attitude. They are special as were we.

db is the nickname for Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP. db stands both for Dr. Bob and da boss. He is an academic general internist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and is the Regional Associate Dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of UASOM. He still makes inpatient rounds over 100 days each year. This post originally appeared at his blog, db's Medical Rants.