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Solving the millennial ‘problem’

Lately we keep hearing of the schism opening up between so-called millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, which is now entering the senior workforce, and the baby boomer generation born between the late 40s and early 60s that is now retiring en masse.

Boomers slate the millennials as part grown-up spoilt children – workshy, ‘too good to do anything’ exercise junkies who marry in the forties and have only one ‘wonder’ child. An online fake generation, obsessed with taking selfies with personal trainers, food boxes and £10,000 bicycles. ‘Eco-warriors’ who jet around the world on adventure holidays.

Baby boomers believe the NHS will never be able to train enough millennials as doctors, as they will work ever more part time. Millennials, they sneer, are just run-to-mummy tedious snowflake types.

But the millennials have their own views. They are tired of these over confident Donald Trump boomer types, with properties worth more than they will ever have in a pension fund and large index linked pensions paid for off the backs of millennials. With their free university education, the boomers have plundered the world’s natural resources and gifted the millennials climate change.

Fortunately, I am the generation in between, the forgotten middle generation ‘X’ (although I resent the title, which makes us sound like inadequate, sad wannabes seeking an edgy stage name). I don’t want to get into the fighting, not least because I have millennial children.

In any case, stereotypes are of course deeply unfair, and unhelpful. The inconvenient truth is that there is no better or worse generation, just different generations living in a different world, with different expectations. Inter-generational war is helping no one.

The truth in medicine is simply that millennials working as GPs don’t want to work 55 hours a week and certainly don’t want to commit to working in the same practice for the next 30 years. They want a life and a career. Millennials are not motivated purely by money; often GP millennials have plenty of family cash behind them anyway. 

So the paradox has arisen where offering more money often means these new generation GPs decide to work less and to have more time for leisure and family. Millennials are choosing not to be partners, just as thousands of vacancies lie empty.

If you are a small practice in crisis, you have no chance of recruiting a millennial. Broadly, there is a pervading sense of sadness within medicine, a feeling of ‘is this really it ?’.

So general practice must change to make it more attractive to these millennial GPs. More of the same won’t rub and the traditional structures are broken. We need to make working part-time the norm, make the working day more flexible – even involving working weekends. And we need to think the unthinkable and evolve into a salaried service.

Make general practice a career similar to being a hospital consultant and indeed start blurring the margins between primary and secondary care. We need much flatter organisations, in bigger teams.

People need to feel what they are doing is important and we need to articulate how important general practice is. Millennials feel strongly about the environment, diet and activity and we need to think how we might bring this into the workspace. Embracing change and offering some hope is important for all generations.

Dr Des Spence is a GP in Maryhill, Glasgow