As Millennials Get to Work, Leaders in Radiology are Faced with a New Set of Challenges

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 - Ana P. Lourenco, MD
Ana P. Lourenco, MD

More and more millennials—most commonly referred to as individuals born between 1980 and 2000—are completing their training and officially entering the radiology workforce. It’s an exciting time for those men and women, proof that their years of dedication and hard work have truly paid off ... but the influx of young workers also has resulted in elevating frustration levels across radiology groups throughout the country.

Millennials tend to work differently than employees from prior generations, it turns out, and those differences are rubbing both managers and more experienced radiologists the wrong way. Common complaints include a perceived lack of focus and a desire for continuous feedback as opposed to receiving a standard annual review each year.

Ana P. Lourenco, MD, and John J. Cronan, MD, both of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, R.I., have given this ongoing situation a lot of thought, writing about it in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (J Am Coll Radiol. 2016 Aug 20. pii: S1546-1440(16)30487-2).

Both Lourenco, an associate professor of diagnostic imaging and associate residency program director at the school, and Cronan, professor and chair of the department of diagnostic imaging, spoke with Radiology Business Journal about how leaders can adapt to this new workplace dynamic.

Educate and adapt

Lourenco sees frustration coming from older generations not understanding where millennials are coming from. In many cases, it is the first time these more experienced employees have worked with radiologists and technologists this young.

“Part of it is just learning what is important to that generation, the key things that shaped their upbringing, their shared cultural beliefs and their expectations,” Lourenco says. “And then once you’ve learned about it, teach your colleagues about these differences. This is what I did in my department—I gave a brief presentation trying to get everybody up to speed about key differences and what might explain differences in behavior at work.”

She also notes that training within healthcare has changed over the years. Older radiologists may have trained in an era of stricter rules, while millennials were nurtured in a system that was much more friendly to trainees.

“Millennials trained in the era of time off, limited consecutive hours on call and so on,” Lourenco says. “I think those were probably changes that were for the good for trainees, but they stand in contrast to how many of the older physicians were trained.”

Cronan has experienced those changes firsthand, too. “Hot seat conferences” have long been an effective tool to get students to think on their feet to answer difficult questions at a fast pace. Eventually, though, millennials complained they felt they were being harassed during these conferences; as a result, the school stopped them altogether.

All of this surprised Cronan who was schooled in a much different environment. “I was brought up where you do a good job and that’s what you are expected to do,” he says. “If you screw up, you’re going to get ridiculed. They don’t do any of that anymore. Now, students go in and do something rudimentary and you have to tell them, ‘you did a nice job, you handled that well.’”

While medical school policies have evolved to meet changing dynamics, the biggest challenge comes in the transition from training to practice when the support structure is removed. To help with that transition, Cronan and other radiology leaders have worked on ways to make things less stressful once millennials are hired.

“I’ve been very supportive of changes in the residency to accommodate them, and I’m trying to make changes now for the junior staff,” he says. “I’m trying to give them more feedback, because that’s what they want.”

For example, Cronan realized millennials were more successful in learning a task via shadowing vs. being cut loose right away. They clearly benefit from reassurance.

But at the end of the day, taking into account the changes in strategy and leadership techniques and need for more feedback, Cronan is impressed with this incredibly smart new crop of radiologists.  When he watches them work, he is often stunned by their ability to do numerous things at once.

“The thing that will blow you away is that they can multitask,” he says. “I have to have silence [to work], but some of these millennials will have headphones in while reading studies and have another computer screen open. That’s the