Why the perceived weaknesses of millennials are in fact real strengths for the veterinary profession

Millennial weaknesses into strengths

Millennials often get a bad rap but, according to vet Alexander McGhee, they have much to offer the veterinary profession – both now and in years to come.

Within the veterinary profession, millennials are often pitted against ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Generation X’. When academic literature such as ‘Millennials, learning, and development: Managing complexity avoidance and narcissism’ fuels the negative stereotype of millennials as 'needy', 'entitled', 'lazy' and 'disloyal', it is no wonder comparisons occur.  

Baby Boomers – so the argument goes – bought into or set up practices, worked the punishing hours and sacrificed friends and family at the altar of veterinary medicine. Like a giant game of pass the practice parcel, they were holding the present when the music stopped, writhed opened the last layer of paper and found a big bundle of corporate cash. Early retirement, corporate clinical boards and complaining about the younger generations beckon.

The next generation down is Gen X. They are the generation looking to buy in, but firmly gazumped by the corporate buying spree. So often they’ve been told ‘just keep doing the one in three rota, next year you’ll be able to buy in’, only to have the rug pulled from under their feet when ‘next year’ arrives. They now find themselves without their role models, subject to corporate sales targets and fighting over the one clinical director job. With their loyalty unrewarded, it’s little surprise the call of locuming is so strong.

"Willingness to surge into complex clinical situations without experience simply isn’t as realistic an expectation as it was 20 years ago"

Into this world of varying generational grudges enter the millennials. Their old colleagues’ opinion of them is rarely favourable. We often hear that recent graduates require ‘constant hand holding’ and aren't willing to just ‘have a go’. There’s plenty of discussion within the general literature about the source of this perceived neediness. Having grown up in an age of teaching for the test, millennials are thought to focus more on outcomes than process. At the same time, veterinary medicine becomes inexorably more complicated with every passing year. Willingness to surge into complex clinical situations without experience simply isn’t as realistic an expectation as it was 20 years ago.

How perceived weaknesses can be turned into strengths

With all these negative stereotypes, the key problem is the unwillingness of employers to realise that different approaches to veterinary medicine aren't failings of veterinary education or an example of weakness; they’re an opportunity. Take a lesson from guerrilla warfare and turn your weaknesses into strengths. Here’s a look at some of the perceived weaknesses of millennial vets and how they can be viewed as strengths:

'Needy' becomes...engaged

Every year vet schools churn out a plethora of young, enthusiastic and intelligent potential employees. If they want feedback, give it to them. You have employees that want and value your advice and feedback.

'Entitled' becomes...ambitious

Millennial vets want to progress. They want to become better vets and move forward in their careers. Here the increasing corporatisation has removed a certain level of progression. Without partnership opportunities, the only progression within a practice becomes a clinical director role. Certificates and extra skills fill this gap to a certain extent, but without these achievements being mapped to actual career progression, they may not suffice.

'Lazy' becomes...valuing work-life balance

There’s no escaping our profession’s issues with burnout and mental health. A workforce that is aware of these challenges and actively looking for work that is manageable in the long term is a clear positive.

'Disloyal' becomes...recruitable

There are plenty of employers failing to retain their staff. However, if you get your management right, provide the right support, provide progression opportunities and the right work life balance, the likelihood of attraction and retainment increase.

Perceived weaknesses as admirable qualities

Complaining that new graduates aren't what they used to be is pointless. They probably aren't, but neither is the veterinary profession they’re entering in to. What’s more, it’s not a criticism; millennial vets are different, not worse. Often their perceived weaknesses are simply reactions to the vastly different profession they find themselves in. Equally, when looked at with fresh eyes, these perceived weaknesses are actually admirable qualities. Qualities I believe that will benefit the profession in the years to come.

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