Imaging’s Generational Divide

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I have asked ImagingBiz.com’s editor, Cat Vasko, to join me in writing these commentaries, and to provide some perspective on those topics that I feel she is uniquely suited to address. This is the first thought-provoking piece from her in this capacity, but it will certainly not be the last.—CKPCat VaskoI first heard the topic of generational differences as they pertain to radiology management raised at the 2009 RBMA Fall Educational Conference in Chandler, Arizona, where speaker Dave Jakielo, former president of the Healthcare Billing and Management Association, elicited both sympathetic groans and laughter of recognition as he cited some of my generation’s worst traits. As a certified member of generation Y, I learned that I’m part of a group that is generally considered lazy and entitled, yet in need of constant positive reinforcement. I wanted to stand up and defend my generation, but what would have been more entitled or reinforcement seeking than that?

The subject came up again, later that year, at an RSNA dinner with members of a large radiology practice. One dining companion said that people have to be managed differently according to their generation, claiming that those are just the facts.

Since then, I’ve seen some variation on this theme pop up at least once at every management conference that I’ve attended, with good reason: Managing across generations is a challenge that will only be amplified as baby boomers continue to retire in droves—while people of my generation are emerging from various academic and professional training periods, ready to settle into the trajectories that will define our careers. The gradual pace of generational turnover in radiology is no more. Things are about to change—and quickly.

I can’t say, however, that I agree with a lot of the advice that I’ve heard for managing people my age—or even people of the millennial generation, a few years behind us, who are considered even more difficult. The problem with much of the advice is its tone: It is almost always adversarial, the result of an us-versus-them mentality that highlights differences instead of commonalities. That they want a work–life balance is something I often hear said of members of my generation, followed by contemptuous snorts. Leaving aside the yoga-esque syntax, isn’t that something that we all want?

Perhaps we should stop focusing on what makes the generations different and start focusing on what they have in common. This is easier in health care than in other industries, for surely no one would dedicate his or her life to a field with such an uncertain future unless he or she truly believed in the importance of helping people. Building from there, if we’re so concerned about how the newest generation of employees will handle the reins once they’re handed over, we should focus on shaping them, not managing their differences.

As a generation Y member, I’ll also offer a tiny bit of insight: What might be overlooked about my generation by those with decades of work under their belts is that we don’t remember a time when people purchased their first homes at age 24. We don’t remember the halcyon days when work stayed at the office; through the magic of the Internet, it has always followed us home. We don’t remember a time when the health-care system worked reasonably well for providers and patients alike. It’s been broken for as long as we can remember, and that means that instead of looking back and longing for the way things were, we’re able to embrace a future of infinite possibilities in health care.

There was a time when someone could conceivably have chosen radiology as his or her area of focus, on the clinical or business side, because of the money. That time has passed. Though the field is still attractive for the lifestyle and generous benefits that come with it, these days, a promising resident is more likely to choose radiology because of a passion for the work and a belief in the power of imaging to improve patient outcomes. Harnessing that passion and bringing its energy to bear on the challenges that the radiology industry now faces will be critical to ensuring the profession’s future.

Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.