New Gen of Docs Lead HC Future

Posted on July 6, 2011


As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, experts try exceedingly hard to predict the future. People are not sure who to turn to for information:  politicians, administrators, practitioners, academics, lobbyists?

One source I find of interest is Gen Y—more specifically Gen Y medical school graduates, a.k.a. our future doctors.

Generational studies are a facinating sociological subset because of stark contrasts and how that has shaped our culture, both personal and professional. I see these tendencies as no different in leading to our ‘new’ healthcare future.

I will not regurgitate the latest research on Gen Y; however, two trends in relation to new medical school graduates (typically mid-to-late 20s, solidly within Gen Y territory) got me thinking.

The first is that 70% of new medical school graduates are not interested in owning their own practice. They apparently want the predicability of a steady income and steady hours without the headaches of running a small business. Fair enough.

The second is that doctors, too, are increasingly in search of what Gen Y already identifies as a primary professional must-have:  a work-life balance. For Gen Y this can be parsed out as employee ‘benefits’ like flexible work hours or routinely working from home, or simply the unwillingness to work like a slave to the detriment of life outside work.

When overlaid, these two trends provide me with a little insight. It seems to me physicians will be working extra hard to get residencies with hospitals they can impress and stick with, i.e. get on the payroll. For now, the physician-entrepreneur organizing a group practice, at least among junior-tenured physicians, is not en vogue. This could be a pendulum swing or a conservative sign of the economic times. Also, rural health looks to be in trouble, but more on that later.

Work-life balance is a tricky thing, especially for physicians. Being a doctor of most any sort, other than dermatology, never struck me as a profession to expect a good work-life balance. It will be interesting to see how Gen Y reconciles this apparent mutual exclusivity. What does this mean for hospitals? What does this mean for the ever-important ‘access’ and public persona of the doctor that will be more important to consumers in the future? Will my doctor blow me off to go mountain biking or enjoy an unusually good surf?

Perhaps more distressingly is the picture of rural health physicians. For doctors who want a steady paycheck and the ability to turn the lights out and lock the door at the end of the day…is this even possible in rural areas?

And most of our country is served by rural healthcare. In many towns and counties, 0ur nation’s rural healthcare infrastructure is not much more modern than the town doc concept famous in Norman Rockwell paintings. When the small town doctors retire, what Gen Y physician will want to sign on at a critical access hospital, move to a town of 3400 for most likely less than market pay, and be on call constantly?  Then when the day is done, fret over the precarious Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured patient mix supporting his or her paycheck? Proximity to great hiking or camping might be the strongest draw.

I am really pulling for rural health because it has so much, at least on paper, sided against its long-term survival. How do the communities across the U.S. that are so proud to have a hospital, keep them in light of what are overwhelming riptides of reimbursement, recruitment and infrastructure struggles? How is this reconciled with an entire generation’s attitude and expectation toward work and their careers?

There are no sure answers yet to these questions. Yet, generational tendencies have been remarkably accurate and a powerful tool to understanding behavior. If healthcare providers are the roots or trunk of the healthcare tree, the future of healthcare may rest in knowing how new generations of healthcare providers think, and figuring out how to proactively manage those tendencies for the betterment of all.