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5 tips for teaching the next generation of osteopathic physicians

As a family medicine preceptor of millennials, John T. Pham, DO, appreciates the unique perspectives his students bring to the table.


Teaching the next generation of physicians can be one of the most rewarding aspects of practicing medicine. But the job comes with inherent challenges, especially when you’re instructing a younger generation, the members of which have likely had training and life experiences that are significantly different than yours.

As a family medicine preceptor of millennials, John T. Pham, DO, has learned to appreciate the unique views and perspectives his students bring to the table.

Millennial students typically value a more egalitarian workplace, prioritize work-life balance and are highly skilled with technology, says Dr. Pham, an associate professor at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest in Lebanon, Oregon, and a member of Generation X.

While these attributes differ from those of his generation, Dr. Pham emphasizes that they aren’t better or worse than the overarching Baby Boomer or Gen X values. “It’s not a bad thing that millennials want work-life balance,” he says. “We all need to find balance in our lives. Maybe it will lead to a lower burnout rate.”

Dr. Pham recently offered the following tips for precepting a younger generation—millennials in particular—during an OMED session on teaching across generations:

  1. Understand that your students grew up in a different time. Make an effort to see the world through their eyes and understand what they’re going through. At the same time, students should also understand their teachers’ background and perspective, and you can educate them on yours.
  2. Share your passion for medicine and your specialty—students will respond to your positive energy.
  3. Set rules for technology use. Many tech-savvy young people are used to navigating their lives with the aid of their smartphones and tablets. Sometimes this can be an asset, but it’s the preceptor’s job to set boundaries and explain when it’s OK to use technology and when it’s not.
  4. Establish clear lines of hierarchy. Your students may come from a generation that values equality over hierarchy. They also may not be familiar with workplace hierarchies.
  5. Your students will appreciate clearly stated expectations. “On rotations, I’ll tell students, ‘I’d like you to round on my patients at 7 a.m. I’ll come in at 2 p.m. and you’ll present them to me,’ ” Dr. Pham says. “I spell out as much as I can to give students the details they need.”

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