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Morgan Payne, PharmD
Assistant Professor
University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Dr. Payne practices as a clinical pharmacy specialist at Salud Family Health Centers in Fort Collins, CO (a federally qualified health center). Her clinical pharmacy services include chronic disease state management via collaborative drug therapy management (CDTM) protocols, comprehensive medication reviews, medication and disease state education for patients, as well as pharmacotherapy education for health care providers and clinical staff.

A quick internet search for the term “millennial” will show a broad definition of someone being born between the 1980s and early 2000s, also known as Gen Y. Additionally, you will find a plethora of results including varying opinion articles on who and what defines this group of individuals. It seems everyone is divided on their outlook of millennials falling somewhere on the spectrum between: the generation that will change the world via social movements and inclusive diversity to the downfall of modern society caused by social media and instant gratification. Regardless of where your thoughts lie within this spectrum, it is likely at some point in your career you will be in a position to provide feedback to a millennial. Through this article, I hope to debunk common millennial misconceptions, provide insight to similarities that exist between all generations, and outline some strategies to communicate effectively.

Misconception #1: All millennials are the same, they need constant feedback.
Similarity #1: No one is the same, feedback should be individualized.

While regular feedback may be ideal for some to stay on track with their growth and goals, for others it may inadvertently translate as a consistent criticism and reminder of failures. Avoid lumping any one person into a specific category-be that age, gender, race, or religion. Feedback should be individualized, if and when possible. Every person has different upbringings, successes, and failures that etch a lasting impact on their career. Accordingly, you may try soliciting insight from the evaluee about their preferences for feedback: such as on-demand vs. summative, written vs. verbal, or a combination of feedback styles. A different approach might include asking the evaluee to evaluate you or your rotation experience; more often than not, people will give feedback in the way that they prefer to receive it. Allowing the evaluee to have a voice in the evaluation process will ensure engagement before and after feedback sessions and increase the likelihood of self-reflection and implementation of actions for improvement. 

Misconception #2: Millennials need handholding; they don’t want to be told they’re wrong.
Similarity #2: We all appreciate a “pat on the back” every once in a while.

Perceiving millennial students and new practitioners as individuals who can only take small steps at a time limits their growth, impairs problem solving skills, and diminishes potential to think outside the box. There are instances where feedback must be provided in a less than ideal situation. If an evaluee makes an obvious, poor clinical decision or is acting with callous bedside manner, it is appropriate to firmly address their actions. “Handholding” or dancing around direct feedback could result in the development of an unrefined and potentially dangerous practitioner. In contrast, a lack of recognition for a job well-done over time can lead to decreased confidence, unspoken hostility, and possibly carelessness. Take a moment to reflect on the evaluee’s performance and highlight areas where situations have genuinely gone well, or compliment critical thinking skills or ideas they have brought to the table. Occasionally, we all appreciate a “pat on the back”.

Misconception #3: Millennials don’t respect authority.
Similarities #3: We are all healthcare professionals who should put our patients first.

For example, a young trainee identifies a potential error, brings this error up to a superior, and it is perceived as an insult. We are all healthcare professionals who have taken an oath to put our patients first. We are charged with the privilege of having patients place their trust in our judgement. Patient safety and well-being is of utmost priority and should always be the focus. If you find yourself in a situation where it appears that an evaluee is not respecting authority, pause and evaluate the situation from a bird’s-eye viewpoint, and attempt to see various perspectives. When giving feedback, use these situations to mentor young professionals through choosing some battles over others of less importance and identifying appropriate avenues and language to voice concerns. This can prevent apprehension for young professionals to speak up in the future regarding critical information.

Feedback to professionals of all ages can be challenging, and it is important to ensure effective communication to be successful. Attempt to individualize feedback when possible, directly address unsatisfactory behaviors, occasionally highlight positive areas of strength, and keep patients as the center focus. 

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