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Paging Dr Millennial

How do millennial doctors compare to previous generations of doctors?

Dr Millennial

Ever since the term 'millennial' was coined by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss almost 30 years ago, a veritable torrent of things have been said and written about the generation that is powering our workforce - and our culture - today. Some of it is inspiring, a lot of it is disparaging and oversimplified. Peel away both the hype and the hysteria, however, and you discover a set of characteristics that distinguishes this generation from those that came before.

One could argue that the vast majority of what has been said and written describes the millennials - people reaching adulthood around the turn of the 21st century - from western hemisphere countries in developed economies. The general consensus is that millennials exhibit the following characteristics:

  • engage in multiple careers over their lifetime
  • highly entrepreneurial
  • team-oriented and collaborative
  • compassionate and socially conscious 
  • seek great work-life balance 
  • have a sense of entitlement 
  • digitally native.

But what about millennial doctors? What characterises them? Are they like other millennials? What is their attitude toward their profession? And what are the similarities and differences in the rising generation of physicians across different countries?

To this end, we conducted a global study in eight key healthcare markets of doctors who are already practicing and are 35 years and under. The study included an extensive analysis of over 100 sources, one-on-one interviews and a quantitative study of 200 doctors across both developed and developing countries.

Before we delve into the trends we observed, there is context that needs to be set. Every generational group is shaped and defined by the timeframe during which they were born and by their shared experiences. For millennials, there are shared experiences that drive global commonalities - 9/11, the 2008 economic crisis, smartphones, Facebook and Google, for example. In the case of millennial doctors specifically, five key influences come into play:

  • their broader generational trends
  • the norms of where they trained
  • the influence of older teachers and mentors
  • the rapidly evolving technology, and
  • the healthcare system of the country in which they live.

Importantly, however, there are marked differences arising from local experiences. Country-specific approaches to the five influences noted above, local culture and customs and level of economic development all lead to millennial nuances at the country level.

With this context, here are the very high-level trends and implications from the study.

Millennial doctors are highly committed to their profession

Key Trend #1: More 'doctor' than 'millennial'
The research showed that millennial doctors are more 'doctor' than 'millennial' - they are more defined by the qualities and characteristics of their profession than those of their generation.

Like doctors before them (and unlike their millennial cohort), millennial doctors are highly committed to their profession, and do not wish to jump from one career to another. The majority (76%) intend to treat patients, while the rest want to teach (40%) or do research (30%). Millennial doctors are highly focused on patient care. The most exciting thing for them is the possibility of giving patients better outcomes, specifically to improve a patient's quality of life. Interestingly, in developed countries, the focus is more on the quality of patients' lives, whereas in developing countries, it is both on the quality of patients' lives and giving patients a longer life.

Contrary to what one might believe based on broad assumptions about this generation, millennial doctors as a whole are not keen to engage in entrepreneurial endeavours.

And while as a generation they may be hooked on their smartphones, constantly communicating with friends and family, millennial doctors are mixed on their use of technology when it comes to communicating with patients.

Despite all this, millennial doctors share a number of characteristics with the broader millennial population.

They are very team-oriented and collaborative, preferring to work in environments with other doctors.

They use digital technology intuitively. The vast majority goes online for medical education: 73% to keep up to date with medical literature, 71% to seek information about treatments and 61% for continued education. Social media apps are used by 70% in their practice and professionally. They also use social media platforms such as Google+, WhatsApp and Facebook to stay connected with colleagues (61%) and seek advice from other doctors (40%).

Yet they are hungry for more. 63% say technology is not currently being utilised to its fullest potential for patient treatment and care, and want to more fully integrate it at their place of work. 

Key Trend #2: Developing country doctors are more millennial
There were three notable differences between physicians in developing versus developed countries:

  1. developing country doctors are more entrepreneurial
  2. they make greater use of technology (for example, text messaging with patients or using more quantifying devices)
  3. they are more altruistic, being more likely to perform pro bono work.

Key Trend #3: Lukewarm on pharma
Perhaps not surprising, but certainly not encouraging to hear, was the widely shared lukewarm perspective on pharma. More than half of study participants believe that pharma has an important role to play, and well over a third think pharma should be providing more services and education to patients. This signals a desire for positive engagement and an openness to what pharma can deliver in support of their practice and their patients' better health. This is a generation that came of age with the advent of organic, fair trade, ethically sourced products and greater desire for transparency from the corporate world. It is only natural they expect the same from pharma.

There is also an opportunity to improve HCP-facing promotional materials. Millennial doctors around the world are simply not sold on the materials they are currently exposed to - the question remains whether this is due to how materials are developed and executed, or whether it is more a result of general distrust.

Societal influences and implications 
While these trends might be interesting in themselves, it is essential to understand the rapidly evolving healthcare world these doctors are entering, because it will continue to shape them and should inform how we serve them.

The world that millennial doctors are entering is younger overall than it was a generation ago. Almost 50% of the world's population today is under 25 years old, which means that family planning, women's health and pediatrics will be growing elements of the world's healthcare needs.

At the same time, the world is older and sicker. Declining fertility, and improved health and longevity, have swelled the older population dramatically. This means a rise in chronic diseases, dementia and other age-related disorders.

Another factor that will shape the way physicians engage is the high demand and low supply of doctors. There is estimated to be a shortage of 4.3 million qualified physicians worldwide, with the greatest deficits being seen in the developing world and rural areas.

This will exert tremendous pressure on the time a doctor will spend in under-served areas, and we will continue to see the rise of other healthcare workers filling the gap by taking on responsibilities previously held only by doctors. Additionally, a vast majority of the routine work currently undertaken in hospitals will shift to primary care offices, retail outlets or even the patient's home.

Finally, the impact of technology will continue to be tremendous. It is transforming every aspect of medicine at an unprecedented rate. From high-tech imaging to innovative devices, from robot-assisted surgery to remote patient monitoring, from e-records to tele-health, no area of healthcare is being left untouched.

Mariana Sanchez de Ovando is SVP, global executive director of Indigenus and Stephanie Berman is a partner at The Bloc, a founder member of the Indigenus health and wellness communications network

4th March 2016

Mariana Sanchez de Ovando is SVP, global executive director of Indigenus and Stephanie Berman is a partner at The Bloc, a founder member of the Indigenus health and wellness communications network

4th March 2016

From: Healthcare



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