A Force to Be Reckoned With: Millennial Nurses Bring Growing Numbers and Higher Expectations to the Work Environment

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By Marcia Faller, PhD, RN, Chief Clinical Officer, AMN Healthcare

Millennial nurses place a higher premium on professional development, quality measure transparency and other factors than their older peers. They’re also more likely to change jobs to get what they want. 

These were among the key takeaways from a new report by AMN Healthcare, Survey of Millennial Nurses: A Dynamic Influence on the Profession, which offers many insights about millennial nurse expectations for the work environment.

Millennials (ages 19-36) are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, making up 35% of American workers.  This trend takes on particular significance in the healthcare industry where unprecedented workforce shortages have created recruitment challenges, particularly for qualified nurses.

The new report provides millennial nurse opinions based on data gathered in the AMN 2017 Survey of Registered Nurses, completed by 3,347 RNs. The millennial nurse responses were extracted and compared to those from Generation X, or Gen Xers, (ages 37-53) and baby boomer nurses (ages 54-71). 

The following are some highlights from the survey:



Millennials Expect More from the Work Environment 

Millennial nurses are continually looking to better themselves through education or job changes and are more trusting of leadership than older nurses, according to the survey. They also have distinct ideas about what constitutes a good working environment – and how that can positively affect patient care.

Among these expectations are the need for professional development opportunities, transparent quality measures, a positive culture and supportive leadership.

While their older peers may also see these workplace attributes as positive, Millennials placed a higher value on them across the board.  For instance, 63% of Millennials answered positively when asked to respond to the statement, “The quality of patient care I provide is positively influenced by professional development opportunities.” Gen Xers weren’t far behind at 61%, while 53% of baby boomer RNs saw these opportunities as important.

The divide between the younger and older nurses grew sharper with regard to questions about culture, transparency of quality measures and the importance of effective and supportive leadership. Among Millennials, 68% responded affirmatively to a question on whether quality measure transparency positively influenced patient care. This compared to 62% of Gen Xers and 54% of baby boomers.

Similar numbers were seen regarding culture and leadership effectiveness. In responding to the statement, “The quality of patient care I provide is positively influenced by effective leadership,” 77% of Millennials responded affirmatively compared to 72% of Gen Xers and 66% of baby boomers.  This represents an 11-point difference between baby boomer and millennial RNs.

Millennials not only placed a higher value on leadership quality, they also tended to be more optimistic toward leadership than other generations of nurses. This tendency was true across several categories, including how much they trust their leaders, and whether leaders care about them and their career development.

Career Plans – Shorter Job Tenures Driven by Desire to Advance

Millennials are more likely than their older RN counterparts to consider seeking new employment. This trend is in keeping with U.S. Bureau of Labor findings showing that Millennials are more apt to change jobs than older workers. 

A 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report on employee tenure found that older workers stay at their jobs much longer than younger ones.  For example, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 is 10.1 years, more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years at 2.8 years.

In the 2017 RN survey, nurses were asked how the improving economy might affect their career plans.  About 17% of Millennial RNs said they would continue working in the nursing profession but seek a new place of employment. This compared to 15% of Gen Xers and 10% of baby boomer RNs who said they would consider changing jobs.

In another indication of eagerness for career options, 10% of millennial RNs said they will opt for travel nursing, while only 6% of Gen Xers and about 5% of baby boomers expressed this sentiment.

Many Want to be Nurse Practitioners

With their penchant for bettering themselves through job change, it’s also not surprising that millennial nurses showed great interest in advanced practice nursing.  More than one in four — 28% of millennials — said they would pursue a Nurse Practitioner’s degree in the next three years, compared to 19% of Gen Xers and 4% of baby boomers.

Another 14% of Millennials said they would pursue education to become Clinical Nurse Specialists and 7% said they would become Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. That adds up to nearly half of millennial RNs planning to become advanced practice nurses.

While this strong interest in advanced practice nursing is laudable, it could have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of nurses available as bedside RNs, who are in ever-increasing demand.