What Established Doctors Really Think About Younger Doctors

Ryan Syrek, MA


November 01, 2018

Younger professionals entering into any workplace have doubts and concerns about how their established peers feel about them. That's especially true for freshly minted doctors. Having just finished the debt-laden, stressful grind that is medical school, they are eager to be seen as the medical professionals they are. But what do the doctors whose staffs they are joining actually think about them?

We asked 10 doctors across eight different specialties to share their thoughts on their younger peers. Their candid responses suggest healthy amounts of respect, but also surprising insights that point not only to generational differences but also to potential changes on the horizon for medicine. Here's what they had to say.

What Characteristics Make This Generation of Doctors Different?

Aaron B. Holley, MD: It's often difficult to differentiate clichés and stereotypes from reality. The party line is that the new generation is less committed and more focused on family and their personal lives, and has a shorter attention span. I'm not sure that's true. Although they're cognizant of work-hour rules and aren't afraid to let you know when they've been working too much, I'm not sure they're any less committed.

Anecdotally, I've interacted with several students over the past 12 months who I'd rank among the best I've seen. They're knowledge is outstanding, they have an excellent work ethic, and they're quite committed.

David A. Johnson, MD: The good thing is that they are so incredibly smart. I don't recall, when I was a medical student, coming into medical school with so many intellectual talents as I see in the current generation of medical students. They're not only smart, they're also motivated. They're very inquisitive and very dynamic, and trying to look for opportunities beyond just their medical core curriculum.

The challenge that I see (and this is not a universal comment) is that the millennials in general—and if you're millennial, I apologize for being somebody in their 60s saying this—are focused very much on private time and on almost a shift-work mentality. My son's a physician. My daughter's a nurse. I think it's just a different mentality of, "I really want to focus and have my own time."

That's not to say it's bad; I just think in my time, it was, "You're all in." But to me, it creates somewhat of a divisive position, at least for patient-physician–centered interactions. Patients are very frequently telling me, "I don't even know who my doctor is; when I go to the hospital I don't know who I'm going to get." Or, "The doctor didn't talk to me; I didn't know who they were." So, we're seeing, as much as we're moving into a very patient-oriented, patient-centric attempt for care, we're finding that we're devitalizing a bit. Physicians are starting to become time-centric and a little bit more doctor-centric, rather than patient-centric.

Charles C. Wykoff, MD, PhD: The last thing doctors want to hear is, "You're a wimp compared with the people before." I think the new generation has incredible potential. I think that the generation of physicians we are training now is more ready than ever to apply new technologies to improve care.

Mitul Mehta, MD, MS: There is a perception that this generation of medical students doesn't work as hard or as tirelessly as previous generations. I think that is nonsense. They may not work 36- or 48-hour shifts like we used to, but that was not necessarily a good thing for patients, and it is also not their choice. The duty-hours rules are given to them from above (the ACGME and LCME), and they have to comply or their school will be put on probation. But I have never had a medical student who was with me for an after-hours surgery complain that it was too late and they wanted to go home. If you talk to most of the senior people who are on residency admissions committees, we ask each other whether we would have been even be offered an interview compared with the group that is applying now. I'm very optimistic about this generation of doctors.

William T. Basco, MD: It's pretty clear that current physicians-in-training plan to have a better work-life balance than physicians in previous generations. That certainly poses staffing challenges, but I'm not sure it's a bad thing overall. Certainly, as a pediatrician, I am encouraged knowing that the children of future physicians will be much better off for having a physician parent who is more present than physician parents were in previous generations.

Mark E. Williams, MD: I think that one of the big differences has to do with the context of medicine, or the influence of technology. When I was a medical student (realizing that it's easy to romanticize the past), I think that there was more professional intimacy and emphasis on the doctor-patient relationship. I remember doing my own lab work—for example, blood smears and urine specimens, and examining body fluids and sputum. Sometimes I even helped collect those samples with the patient, holding the urinal while an elderly man stood up to get me the urine sample because I was worried about rhabdomyolysis.

There was an intimacy in the doctor-patient relationship that I don't see happening now. I don't blame it on the medical students, but I don't see that they sense the loss of it either. I think that what's happened is that the patient's best interest is no longer central.

I also think that modern medical students don't challenge the status quo the way that they used to. I think that they need to spend time at the bedside and to learn how to do things.


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