The mystery of generational differences

Nurse Leader Insider, October 5, 2007

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On one hand, we have a new graduate nurse. She grew up in the 1990s, had many educational advantages, and sends 500 text messages to her friends each month. On the other hand, we have a seasoned nurse manager. She grew up in the 1960s, worked her way through nursing school, and still thinks the best way to reach someone is the telephone. And so the stage is set for a collision.

"We are seeing quite a difference in culture and style between current managers and new folks coming out of school," says Sean Clarke, RN, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania and Associate Director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research.

Instead of focusing on the gap, however, Clarke says that the two groups need to find some common ground.

"We're very tradition-bound in nursing," he says. "Attitudes and approaches need to be updated in some way."

So, how can the two generations start working on the same page in order to curb the nursing shortage and improve care at the same time? Clarke laid out some new ideas for nurse managers:

  • Consistent, honest feedback on performance in terms of technical proficiency, contributions to the team, and leadership and communication
  • Learner-centered, practical, and technology-based orientation, and continuing competency approaches wherever possible
  • Recognize that universal needs for variety, challenge, recognition, and ownership may be more acute in a generation of multi-taskers driven to succeed
  • Clear expectations, as new graduates likely went through education where instructions and criteria were very clearly laid out

Clarke concludes that there is a lot to gain from adapting and evolving with the new graduates, but the changes are part of a process. Nursing is in a state of transition, and a manager's job is far from easy.

Editor's Note: This excerpt was adapted from the article, "Solving the mystery behind managing new graduates" featured in the Reading Room on HCPro's new online resource center,!

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