If hospital medicine had to be associated with a single generation, it would most likely be generation X. According to SHM’s recently released 2005-2006 “Survey of Hospitalist Productivity and Compensation,” the average age of hospitalists is 37—the current average age of generation X. But more than the same life stage, this generation shares common characteristics, perspectives, and habits that seem consistent with hospitalists of all ages.
Meet Generation X
Generation X is the term for the generation born between 1965 and 1976. Because they were influenced by the same world events and social trends, this generation (as all generations) brings its own traits and values to the workplace. “The career hallmarks of this generation include their independence and enterprising desire to make things happen,” says Devon Scheef, a partner in The Learning Café ([email protected]), a consulting firm that specializes in helping managers overcome generational differences.
According to The Learning Café, the 51 million members of generation X grew up in a much different world than previous generations. Divorce and two-income families created latchkey kids out of many in this generation, leading to traits of independence, resilience, and adaptability. Members of generation X feel strongly that they don’t need someone looking over their shoulders.
This independence can make hospital medicine especially appealing to young physicians because they can often structure their daily work to suit themselves.
When Work Ethics Collide
Generation X and baby boomer workers most often butt heads over differing work ethics. This is true across all industries, including the medical field—in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Baby boomers tend to put in long hours and devote themselves to their work. “They [baby boomers] work hard—maybe too hard,” says Diane Thielfoldt, partner in The Learning Café. “This is the generation that increased our workweek from 40 hours to 70 or 80 hours.” And baby boomers often expect this level of dedication from their colleagues.
Generation Xers are not interested in working these hours; they do not equate long hours with job efficiency. One of the big draws of hospital medicine is the flexible schedule; a young physician can work a set schedule, such as seven-on, seven-off, and know that when she’s not working, she’s free to do what she wants.
Of generation X physicians, Lawrence G. Smith, FACP, chief academic officer, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, says, “Led by women, this generation of [medical] students will work fewer hours and demand flexible employment opportunities.”1
Young physicians who choose private practice or other specialties may find it difficult to fight the work ethic expectations of older physicians and administrators. “Aging boomers—a terrible term for those in the 46- to 55-year-old bracket—have really run into a wall of work-life balance,” Scheef points out. “They are scaling back on work and looking ahead to retirement. This is hard for this go-go generation. Many are looking to the younger generation—we hear this in healthcare, particularly—to lighten their workload.”
How Generation X Works
Contrary to what many baby boomer bosses may think, members of generation X are terrific employees. They simply have their own way of getting things done.
“Gen Xers are in a new stage of life now, in their mid- to late 30s, and we’re seeing some interesting trends,” says Thielfoldt. “Gen Xers have an entrepreneurial spirit. This trend has become stronger as the generation has gotten older, which is surprising.” Some young hospitalists have taken this trend to the extreme, founding their own hospital medicine groups; others build their careers by creating and running new projects and committees. “They seem very oriented to ownership and accountability to define, create, and implement in their careers,” continues Thielfoldt. “Gen Xers are driven out of organizations when asked to focus on just one piece of the process.” Again, this fits in with the hospitalist personality.