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Health Reform Marks Beginning of Gen X Healthcare

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media, July 16, 2009

Few topics can get physicians worked up like generational differences in practice styles. I've heard Baby Boomer physicians complain about being forced to take call during holidays because the younger physicians in the practice refused to, and I've listened to Generation X doctors lament the lack of work-life balance and the poor communication skills in their older colleagues.

One of my goals in writing this month's HealthLeaders magazine cover story was to add a bit of nuance to the often-contentious discussions about the impact of generational differences between physicians.

It's easy to fall back on dichotomic caricatures with this topic: Older physicians are hard-working professionals who think younger doctors aren't productive or committed enough to medicine and patients, and younger doctors are tech-savvy life balancers who view older doctors as burned-out luddites.

Although they are overblown stereotypes, there are grains of truth in both of those perceptions. But the deeper reality is far more complex.

The characteristics that define each generation of providers overlap and constantly evolve, so that the two are beginning to resemble each other more than they think.

Take Earl Russell, MD, a 64-year-old surgeon with Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, who served as the physician champion in rolling out an EHR system to the Bon Secours medical staff. Russell acknowledges that the technology doesn't come as easily to older doctors who didn't grow up with computers, but he sees the change as a new challenge and puts in time to train seasoned physicians to use the system.

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