"If hospitals haven't realized they're going to need to revolutionize how they communicate with the next generation of physicians, they're soon going to be lost," she says. "We're not going to show up and do things in the same fashion. One of big things is communication. We don't want typed-out memos put in our stationary mailbox for us to pick up every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. We want real-time information."
Hospitals have to act quickly to solve the problem. The rate of technological innovation has pushed generational changes into hyperdrive, which is one reason today's gap is bigger than those in the past.
Generation Y physicians are already distinguishing themselves from Generation X, and if healthcare reform passes, they will enter a very different system than their predecessors. Healthcare leaders need to figure out this generational transition, because another one may be on the way.
"Somebody needs to facilitate passing this baton smoothly, because it's just being fumbled all over the place," says Powell. "Who is that going to be? Is that going to be hospital administration? Is that going to be organized medicine? Somebody needs to have a stake in it."
Elyas Bakhtiari is a senior editor for physicians and service lines for HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Gender Gap?
Marie Maurice, MD, may technically be a Baby Boomer—she was born in 1964, right on the cusp of the cutoff date—but she practices medicine like a Generation Xer.
She's committed to her patients—she checks e-mails when out of the office and sometimes stops by the clinic on her day off—but is only officially committed to Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, a 320-plus physician practice in Houston where she practices dermatology, about 30 hours a week. The part-time schedule she has worked for nearly 12 years has allowed her to spend more time her two young children as they have grown up. That's something her father, who was also a doctor and put in long hours at the clinic, couldn't do.
But is the difference between the two just generational, or does gender play a role? In the physician workforce today, the two seem inextricably linked.
Nearly 90% of practicing physicians were men up until around 1980, and historically the commonly accepted physician practice styles and attitudes heavily reflected male perspectives. "When my dad was practicing medicine, he was the one going to work and [handling] the financial end of things. My mom was the homemaker and took care of us. They had that balance worked out," says Maurice.
But as the physician population gets closer to parity, women are redefining what it means to be a doctor. And that often means a more careful balancing of work and family lives.
Stanton Fischer, MD, Maurice's father, now retired, recognizes that women still tend to bear more childcare responsibilities, which can make practicing medicine challenging. "They are a doctor, a wife, and a mother—that's three full-time jobs that they have to fit into just 24 hours a day. It seems more difficult for women than for male physicians, who are often basically just concentrating on the practice."
Statistically, the line between gender and generation is blurry. Both male and female Generation Xers tend to prioritize work-life balance more, for instance. But early-career females are much more likely to work part-time. Studies suggest female physicians spend more time with patients, meaning they may see fewer patients overall. But research also suggests female doctors have better communication skills, and the additional time spent with patients may lead to fewer malpractice lawsuits.
The transition is still incomplete. And while many female physicians are still learning to adapt their lifestyles to practicing medicine, the healthcare system is still learning to adapt to a more diverse workforce with unique practice styles and priorities.