August 25th, 2010

Is There a Generation Gap in Cardiology?

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A brief posting in the Wall Street Journal Health Blog on the clash of generations in the medical workplace recently caught our attention. The Blog summarizes a commentary by Sharon Phelan in Obstetrics & Gynecology, which  posits that “different attitudes about work and life held by members of different generations can create tensions and clashes in the workplace.”  (Think “Marcus Welby, MD” vs. “Scrubs.”) Older physicians are more likely to place their careers first, while younger physicians are more likely to place family first.

Here’s what Phelan told the Health Blog: “’The risk is that the more senior folks think the newer folks don’t care and that they’re not professional, and look down on them. Meantime some of the younger folks have lost respect for the older folks — they think they’re incredibly misdirected in their emphasis [on work above all else].”

Here are some of our thoughts on the matter. We invite you to share yours as well.

Larry Husten: I wonder if my perspective as an outsider might help: Isn’t it possible that it’s not so much a generational difference per se but a difference in the overall relationship to the healthcare system? Older physicians were much more likely, with good reason, to feel more independent and less burdened by external controls, while younger physicians are much more likely to feel like employees. If you own the store, you’re more likely to stay open late for a good customer. But if you’re just being paid an hourly wage, you’re less likely to make the sacrifice.

L. David Hillis: A good thought.  Nowadays, the older physicians certainly no longer own the store, yet many continue to center their lives around their work. They feel a strong personal professional commitment to their patients that trumps all other things in their lives.

Larry Husten: Nothing personal, but maybe you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks…

Andy Kates: I think the main explanation is that the “younger” generation (I think I am part of that) witnessed our parents (especially fathers and my father-in-law) miss out on the key events in their children’s lives and do not want to act the same way.

Harlan Krumholz: I think the generational shift is more profound and speaks to identity — as well as expectation. It is in medicine but also pervades our society and culture. And it is more about what is generationally normative than anything else. Each generation sets its own rules and feels, in a sense, that it is correcting the problems of past generations. And maybe it does. But I found the recent New York Times article about Velcro parents interesting — and wondered what the right involvement is in children’s key events (Andy’s phrase). And that is my generation.

Readers are invited to contribute to the discussion in the comments section.

One Response to “Is There a Generation Gap in Cardiology?”

  1. I can’t help but think what we are seeing is only partly generational and more driven by the effects of the changes in training rules over the past few years. The relative priorities of work vs family events (or other non-work priorities) to me seems to vary tremendously among individuals of all ages, and to be hard-wired by the time physicians reach medical school. In my “old-school” opinion, the main change isn’t related to where physicians sit in the health care system, or to differences in work ethic, but rather a training environment that has been engineered to limit personal responsibility of trainees.