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The Next Nurse: Generation Gaps in the Workplace

October 7, 2009

By Peggy McDaniel, BSN, RN

by futureshape/via Flickr

by futureshape/via Flickr

I recently read an article (“Time for ‘Dr. Next’?”) that focused on the differences between Baby Boomer physicians and Generation X physicians. The two groups apparently have a lot of angst about each other. While recognizing the younger doctors as collaborative and tech savvy, many older doctors express frustration with what they perceive to be less dedication to medicine. The younger physicians seek a healthier work–life balance, but the Baby Boomers remember putting in extremely long hours as students and also when starting their practices. Bringing these two groups together, often in the same practices, has highlighted their differences.

As it turns out, the same issues come between generations of nurses. This article from NurseWeek has some excellent advice and, although it’s from 2001, remains timely. It discusses different generational views about job security, technology, self-assertion, and other issues. One passage in particular jumped out at me:

Unlike many workaholic baby boomers who define themselves by what they do and how much they work, younger generations tend to see work as only a part of their lives. Generation X and Y nurses say the flexible hours and schedules of hospital nursing attracted them to the profession in the first place. To cope with the intensity of their jobs, they say, they need time to relax and pursue other interests.

If you’re a nurse manager and a member of the Baby Boomer generation, how do you deal with these younger generations of employees? Do you feel successful as a manager or are you frustrated? How about you Generation X or Y nurses? Are you being supervised by someone of an older—or younger—generation? Or are you supervising someone of another generation, and does that ever pose a challenge? Let us know what works and what doesn’t with staff from all age ranges.

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10 comments

  1. I think it is beneficial to discuss the perceived and real differences that exist in different generations. However, I think we must exercise caution, and always remember that these generational definitions are generalizations. It is imperative that we remember to see each nurse as an individual! We must also remember to always return to our commonalities or these generational discussions can quickly turn into arguments.
    I will admit that initially I took offense to the comment posted by Adena. I am 30. I have been an RN with my BSN for 8 years. I have worked as staff nurse and charge nurse, as well as continuing nursing education coordinator and clinical nurse educator. I am passionate about learning and did NOT go into nursing because of money. I became a nurse because I love science. I wanted a job that continually challenged me, and I wanted to serve people…to do things for them that they could not do for themselves. I love my job and I do it because it’s a calling.

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  2. “How Can Generations of Nurses Learn From Each Other?” and its related blog entry at http://bit.ly/1SGaAA

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  3. Great blog Ms. Moffa! Maybe if more units focused on such efforts the number of nurses leaving the profession would drop significantly. Check out this article- http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-02-15-nursing-shortage_N.htm?csp=34

    1 in 5 nurses quit the first year. I’m not surprised. Considering Kit’s comment, our culture must change so that we can reverse this trend.

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  4. I agree Kit should take her lunch breaks off the unit. Here’s a past blog post that addresses that issue.

    http://ajnoffthecharts.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/chew-dont-inhale-in-praise-of-meal-breaks-for-nurses/

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  5. DEAR KIT – YOU GO GIRL! LIFE AND TIMES CHANGE, WE MUST CHANGE WITH THEM. I FIND IT VERY REFRESHING THAT YOU ARE NOT IN AWE OF THE ALMIGHTY PHYSICIAN, AND HAVE THE SELF AWARENESS TO BE CONFIDENT IN WHAT YOU CAN DO, BUT BE WILLING TO ASK FOR GUIDANCE WHEN UNSURE. YOU ARE TECH SAVY, AND MUCH MORE IN TUNED WITH LIVING A BALANCED LIFE.FIND YOUR QUIET SPACE, EAT LUNCH OUTSIDE EVERYDAY, AND GET AWAY FROM ALL THE CHATTER!!!

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  6. Being a baby boomer STUDENT I have an interesting observation. Most of the older “boomerish” students are going into nursing (often as a second career) because they want to do something that matters, AND interestingly most of them are interested in graduate degrees and teaching nursing as well. I am not seeing this characteristic with most of the Gen X and Y students who are in it for the great pay and short hours and have no desire to further their education or teach. Not sure why this is, but it’s a clear difference. Even in nursing school there is a subtle “us and them” division between the age groups. It’s not the techno differences, my career has been in computing, as many of my other older nursing student friends have degrees in engineering and other high tech fields. There’s something else going on here, it would make a great Sociological study.

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  7. Peggy’s blogs are enjoyable reading. She sounds like a very experienced, interested nurse. As a “pre baby-boomers” nurse I probably have a lot different recollection of attitudes toward others in the profession. Personal pride is important for all of us so let’s not let it get in the way of recognizing each others strengths. Some things that were true thirty (even fifty) years ago are still relevant today. Kit, please do not confuse respect with fear. You too will someday have knowledge and advice to pass along, someone may find it very helpful. Occasionally computers are the problem.
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

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  8. Peggy’s blogs are enjoyable reading. She sounds like a very experienced, interested nurse. As a “pre baby-boomers” nurse I probably have a lot different recollection of attitudes toward others in the profession. Personal pride is important for all of us so let’s not let it get in the way of recognizing each others strengths. Some things that were true thirty (even fifty) years ago are still relevant today. Kit, please do not confuse respect with fear. You too will someday have knowledge and advice to pass along, someone may find it very helpful. Occasionally computers are the problem.

    Like this


  9. Thanks for your comment! Keep taking your breaks “off unit”- it’s important and something that should be embraced. I took mine in the break room for years and feel it’s a bad habit that shouldn’t be promoted any longer.

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  10. I’m a youngish (Gen X) new nurse working with many baby boomer nurses. We transitioned to computer charting right when I started this job a few months ago, and I’ve definitely noticed a gap in tech-savviness. The older nurses seemed to want to spend a lot of time teaching us how to do things on the computer (which they were not really familiar with yet) that were completely intuitive to us based on years of experience with computers.

    I’ve accepted that I’m not really going to be able to take the coffee breaks that are meant to be part of the daily schedule, but I’ve also heard a few scattered comments about the way I take my lunch off the floor (instead of “on call” in the break room), even though theoretically we’re encouraged to do that. I just don’t want to give up that time, and I need to get fresh air.

    Most of us younger nurses also don’t have a fear of doctors. We got lots of advice about how to get over being nervous around doctors and the older nurses kept reminding us that the doctors weren’t necessarily better than us–thanks, we knew that already. But that’s the advice they needed when they were new thirty years ago, and they’re passing it along.

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