Doctors Give Millennial Med Students a Bad Rap

Kolin M. Meehan


December 03, 2019

The Millennial Achilles' Heel

It is important to remember that our perspective as medical students is heavily influenced by the fact that most of us have never had a "regular" full-time job. We have shuffled from one classroom to the next for 20 years. As a result, many of us are actually much more comfortable with structure and authority than the progressive tendencies often attributed to our generation would suggest.

Therein lies the millennial Achilles' heel. Because of our limited experience outside of academic environments and lengthy time inside of them, many of us assume that every single conflict must be mediated through third parties, that others must see our points of view as intrinsically valid, and that any pushback from others must come from a bad place. Part of bridging the generational gap means that we must reevaluate our expectations in those areas.

We must learn to adapt to realities, such as the fact that two students can have widely different experiences with situations such as our schedules. For instance, if the outpatient setting feels like torture, staying late after a packed schedule can seem even more maddening. Attendings may single out a student to write notes and assist with office-based procedures, things that no one else on the block was "forced" to do. Some consider this to be mistreatment because study time gets eaten up, and they may then submit negative evaluations of their attending. I believe that these students are mistaken.

Beyond the requirements in the syllabus, it is perfectly acceptable for faculty or residents to request our involvement with routine tasks, so long as patient care is not compromised and work-hour restrictions are not violated. Clinicals are meant to serve, in part, as a trial run for residency, where the workload will not always be spread evenly among peers. These are the kind of irritations that we must learn to distinguish from injustices.

Making Each Other Better

Finding a happy medium between veterans and rookies always generates friction. Each approaches medicine with widely different experiences and proclivities, but that's what makes the job exciting and dynamic. Seasoned doctors recall charting on paper while their younger counterparts accessed computers as children and operate ultrasound probes with relative ease.

To those who discredit the grit of millennials, please understand that we're just as committed to our education as you were. We want our role on the team to reflect the full scope of our knowledge and capabilities. We're learning, yes, but part of that means we want you to positively challenge us instead of putting us in a corner or avoid teaching us responsibilities altogether.

That's not to say that the onus rests solely on those in positions of power. We students must meet this test head-on. Every day in the clinic or on the floor presents the opportunity to hone interview skills, broaden differentials, and build basic techniques. If we mess up, we should own it. Experienced docs and the next generation should both try to remember that we all ultimately want the same thing.

Kolin Meehan is a third-year medical student at West Virginia University School of Medicine. He has written " How to Mentor Millennials in Medicine: Bridging the Intergenerational Impasse" and "The Study Tools Students Should Actually Be Using." He is interested in pursuing pathology.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.