November 13, 2017

Millennial Nurses 'Know It All' - Generational Stereotypes In Nursing Exposed

Millennial Nurses 'Know It All' - Generational Stereotypes In Nursing Exposed

By Dawn Papandrea

There was a time when nursing was mostly made up of young women who went straight into the profession after high school and worked their way up.

Today, the nursing workforce comes from diverse backgrounds, spans four generational age groups, not to mention that there are lots of men in the mix, too. In fact, many people enter nursing as a second career, and therefore, bring with them experience from other industries.

With multiple generations working side-by-side in hospitals, medical offices, and even within individual units, it can be a challenge.

After all, workers from each generation have unique mindsets shaped by their different upbringings and backgrounds. They have their own perspectives on everything from work-life balance to communication styles to what it means to be a loyal employee, and it can sometimes lead to conflict or lower staff morale.

Consider this: As of 2016, the median age of Registered Nurses was 44, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Eventually, the few veterans left and multitudes of Boomers will begin retiring, making way for Gen Xers and Millennials to shape the future of nursing. Until then, though, they'll have to work together.

Take a look at some of the generational differences between today's nurses, and why it's important to keep an open mind and find value in the unique strengths that each person can bring to a team–no matter what their age. 

Traditionalists or Silent Generation (born 1925-1942)

Where they're coming from

These oldest members of the workforce will be soon retiring, but for the few of them that are still around, they're all about structure, and following rules, and procedures.

They don't necessarily embrace change, although they've experienced a lot of it firsthand. Still, they're at the point in which they just want to reap the rewards of their hard work and years of loyalty.

In the workplace

These nursing professionals are technically older than retirement age, but some have continued to work. They often scale back to less physically demanding positions or may opt for part-time work.

Their many years of experience make them the ideal group to serve as mentors for younger nurses, especially when it comes to old-school patient relations.

Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960)

Source: Photograph by: Ray Allan

Where they’re coming from

Some might say that this is the generation responsible for the phrase “workaholic.” They take pride in how hard and how many hours they work, and have paved their own pathways to success.

In the workplace

Baby Boomers make up about 50% of the nursing workforce today. The impending nursing shortage that you’ve been hearing about is because many of them will be reaching retirement age in the next decade or so.

Because of their hard-working nature, many feel resentment toward younger people who are less patient about “paying their dues” to move up the ranks, but are still able to do so because they are more technologically savvy. But give Boomers credit and compensation for their hard work, and you’ll earn their loyalty.

Gen X (born 1961-1981)

Scene from 90's TV show, E.R.    Source:

Where they’re coming from

Raised by the workaholic Traditionalists and Boomers, Gen X had to fend for themselves and become independent early on in their lives.

Having lived through economic downturns and downsizing, they are skeptical about authority figures, have gone away from the notion that you should stick with one employer for the long haul, and feel that work-life balance is more important than a higher salary.

In the workplace

Gen Xers are team players who are aren’t intimidated by technology one bit. They crave autonomy and don’t like being micromanaged.

Offering them opportunities for advancement and a bit of work-life balance will keep them happy and productive. 

Millennials (born 1982 – 2000)

Where they’re coming from

Their Gen X parents went all out for them, and they regularly earned recognition and praise for their accomplishments. Because they’ve always been taught that their input has value, however, it makes them strong collaborators.

Plus, their tech-savvy is innate.

In the workplace

Millennials thrive most when they are kept engaged with new projects, and can find meaning and purpose in their work. As such, they tend to job hop in their quest for fulfillment and personal growth.

A lack of interpersonal communication skills may be evident, since they grew up with text messaging and social media, but that’s countered by their ability to multitask and adapt to new technology with ease.

Focusing on the Strengths of Each Generation

While all of the attributes listed above are generalizations that certainly do not define every individual, they are good to keep in mind if you plan to enter the nursing profession since you’ll work with all sorts of people from every generation.

For younger nurses, relying on older colleagues for advice, respecting their level of expertise, and cutting them some slack for their lagging tech skills can go a long way. Older nurses can benefit from appreciating their younger peers for their passion to help others, and their ability to get the answers they need through digital resources. 

As far as work choices, millennials and younger Gen Xers might enjoy the freedom and flexibility of taking on travel nursing or temporary positions outside of the more traditional hospital settings and work hours, while Boomers find comfort in the staff jobs they’ve relied on for decades.

By approaching your nursing career with the idea that you can learn something from everyone you work with, both older and younger, you’ll be a better nurse for it.

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