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Millennial Leaders Are Changing Medicine for the Better

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There was a time in my life when I hated being called a millennial. I often still do. There is something about that word and the way it is used that feels like a passive insult. Like I am not good enough. Or I am being too needy or even immature. It feels like a stab at calling me a “kid,” even though I have children of my own.

Several months ago I read “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek. I follow the author on social media and his posts drew me into exploring his books. I am on a personal quest for leadership development as I grow my rheumatology private practice and figured I could learn a thing or two from one of the top leadership development gurus. There were many many passages in the book that seemed to speak directly to me, even as someone in health care. Mr. Sinek ties in characteristics of millennials and devotes a whole section of the book to discussing how we will replace our baby-boomer and Generation X predecessors over the next several years and what makes our leadership style unique. 

As I extrapolate millennial leadership to health care and practicing medicine, I can’t help but realize these qualities in my own life. Generation Y, in so many ways, feels like the generation of “why not?” Why do we have to be the same kind of physicians as those who taught us? Why should we follow the status quo and settle for standard outcomes for our patients? Why do we have to do something just because that is the way it has always been done? These questions deeply resonate with me and the way I approach patient care. As a budding entrepreneur building a private practice, I also see how these questions come up in business development, and I do believe we can intertwine qualities of millennial leadership to create a more optimal health care platform for our communities. 

Millennials are not only asking questions about why we do the things we do, but are quick to make changes that address those questions. Sure, there are certainly aspects of being a millennial that are a reflection of the “I want it now” attitude. There are also benefits to wanting something to change quickly. The way my generation has approached challenges we face in health care is inspiring. We want change to happen. Impact is also a driving force for change. How will our decisions create the most impact? We want patients to feel better quicker; we want to prevent disease rather than react to end-stage organ damage; we want to integrate both scientific and holistic principles; and we want control over our time. Even as employed physicians, we want to have autonomy with our patients and our career trajectory. These values take priority over job stability and have been the nidus for many physicians shifting in the health care landscape, all the while striving to create a better “balance” between caring for others and caring for ourselves. 

Just as many millennials are disrupting norms in industries of entertainment, sports, and hospitality, millennial health care leaders are becoming influencers for patient advocacy, navigating health care challenges, and disrupting traditional models of delivering care. Millennial leaders in medicine are striving for more integration, collaboration, improved satisfaction, and better results from their patients. We have become driven to change based on the customer service approach to health care. Online reviews give us real-time feedback as to how we are performing. These performance metrics then become the catalyst for how patients select their health care team. I recall fighting this new reality early in my career and struggling with how someone on the internet would interpret the value of care I provided. Now, I am leveraging social media to project my voice and advocate for patients to understand their diagnoses. This has allowed patients to learn what I stand for even before they become a patient. Building an online presence has helped me learn what patients are looking for and adjust my communication style to meet the needs of those I serve. 

Millennial physicians are also acutely aware of the disparities in health care access that exist in our communities. By utilizing online and virtual physician groups, we are leveraging our networking skills to create alliances with community organizations and expand access to care. Embracing telemedicine and establishing roles as thought leaders in our fields, we are actively breaking down health care barriers. I currently practice in Arizona and have invested in ways to help my snow-bird population establish care in both cities they live in, so as to decrease interruptions in medical care and treatment that are difficult to manage only while the patient resides in my state. 

As the medical community looks ahead, it is essential to recognize that the transition point in medical leadership is on the horizon. Millennial leaders have the potential to be exceptionally effective at running practices and integrating new standards of patient care expectations. As entrepreneurs and risk takers, we are not bound by the traditions of the past but are charting a path toward a brighter and more sustainable future for health care. 

Simon Sinek states, “It’s the camaraderie and shared purpose, as much as the milestones we set, that give our lives meaning. It is only by committing to a path, remaining steadfast on that journey, sticking it out through thick and thin and marching shoulder-to-shoulder with those who share our values and our vision that we can ever find that deep sense of joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment in our lives. This is as true for our careers as it is for our social movements.”

The concept that passion drives innovation and camaraderie builds community is evident as we strive to shift the health care paradigm. And despite the notion that we are still “the kids,” millennials are emerging as a powerful force climbing up that mountain together, striving for a better way to serve our patients and their health, while wanting to live more fulfilled lives ourselves.

What do you think is changing in medical leadership? Share in the comments.

Dr. Brittany Panico is a rheumatologist in Phoenix, AZ. She is a wife and mother of three awesome boys and enjoys hiking, being outdoors, traveling, and reading. She posts on @AZRheumDoc on Instagram and Brittany Panico, DO, on LinkedIn. Dr. Panico is a 2023–2024 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.

Illustration by April Brust

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