Face off: Two generations reflect on their differences

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National Report: Generation X and Baby Boomers are different, but they have one important thing in common - they are veterinarians.

Editor's Note: DVM Newsmagazine's State of the Profession survey is conducted every three years to examine the trends shaping veterinary practice and education. Our coverage started in our March issue and concludes this month. Log on to dvm360.com/stateoftheprofession to view the full series, or click on the Community section of the News page to share your thoughts.

COLCHESTER, CONN. — Dr. Jonathan Walker enjoys building computers in his spare time, but would never dream of communicating with clients via e-mail.

Generation X, 29 years old, associate veterinarian

Sure, it's a clinic policy to follow up with phone calls only at the eight-doctor Colchester Veterinary Hospital, where Walker has worked since he earned his veterinary degree from Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. But even when he owns his own clinic someday, he will go for the personal touch, Walker says.

He embraces advances in technology for diagnosing and treating animals, more so than his older colleagues, and has no problem with logging onto the Internet to find answers to some of his questions. But his medical textbooks still provide the most dependable information.

Walker values the opinions of his colleagues, but it has less to do with their age and experience and more to do with how much he trusts their judgment.

Walker is like many of his generation in some ways, but very different in others.

Poor work ethic and loyalty are just two criticisms of the 29-year-old's generation. He says he doesn't fit the stereotypes, but believes there are valid reasons for the generalization.

Don't be a doormat: Being strict with younger generations is the best way to get them to work hard, says Walker.

In a recent generational survey conducted by DVM Newsmagazine, Walker's age category, the 29-to 44-year-old bracket, scored better on loyalty than the 28-and-younger crowd, with only 31.2 percent considering his generation to be not very loyal, compared with 63.7 percent who thought the under-28 crowd was not very loyal. Perceptions of loyalty increased with age among respondents.

And Walker agrees with his colleagues that younger generations don't often have as much loyalty to their employer, himself being an exception.

"Personally, I'm very loyal. It would take a lot for me to want to leave, more than someone offering me more money," he says. "But I would say it's probably a generational thing. Some of my classmates might not be as loyal."

Perhaps it's because practices are working harder to attract younger veterinarians than they did maybe 10 or 20 years ago, Walker suggests.

"It's just the way our society is changing. I think there's probably a lot more perks than 20 years ago, for sure. Health-care benefits are a lot more generous," he says, adding that he thinks the drive to offer more appealing hiring packages is the result of a combination of giving new graduates what they are asking for and what's come to be expected in private practices.

But owners can't give too much and expect the output of effort to be the same, Walker says of others in his age group.

"In talking to my classmates, I guess people aren't willing to work quite as hard. I guess because we're able to get away with it," he says.

Owners who are stricter with their associates and demand more from them will reap the benefits more than those who give too much, don't demand enough and then complain about a poor work ethic.

Walker's age group isn't thought of too poorly, with 43 percent of survey respondents believing that his generation could develop a stronger work ethic. But criticism of the under-28 group worsened, with nearly 75 percent believing that the group needs a stronger work ethic.

But there's a conundrum there, says Walker, considering the longstanding challenge veterinarians face in trying to achieve a better work/life balance.

In DVM Newsmagazine polls dating back several years, achieving work/life balance is the No. 2 goal of veterinarians across generations. Younger generations are doing what older generations have long tried to do and taking some flak for it, Walker says.

"They're shifting away from this mentality that you have to work 24 hours a day and burn out after 20 years," Walker says.

"It's not laziness, it's just wanting to have a home life, too. But I think it can be overdone if you're not careful."

ARDMORE, PA. — He has employed many younger-generation veterinarians and currently has three on staff who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Baby Boomer, 55 years old, practice owner

But Dr. James Bianco, owner of the Ardmore Animal Hospital in a suburb of Philadelphia, says he would never accuse graduates of being lazy or having a poor work ethic.

"I hear that from colleagues, but I don't see it," Bianco says. "Just because they don't want to work 100 hours a week doesn't make them bad people."

In a recent poll on differences between generations and problems that can occur in the workplace, veterinarians under age 28 were criticized the most for poor work ethic and a lack of loyalty. The 29-to-44 age group fared better, but there were still doubts among many in the older set that the workers would give their all to a practice.

But Bianco, 55, says he thinks poor management skills are to blame for owners who are dealing with poor-performing associates.

"You have to treat people like human beings and give them proper working schedules," he says. "Granted, there's no free lunch. If you want to be successful, you've got to work hard, but if you manage your practice properly and have the right fee schedule, you don't need to have them work 50-to 60-hour weeks and burn them out."

Good management results in good workers, no matter what generation you employ, says Bianco.

And making younger veterinarians "pay their dues" isn't an excuse, he says. "I think some of the older generations think you have to work 100 hours per week to be successful instead of thinking they need to manage better," Bianco says. "Just give good hours and allow them to make a good living."

Half of his six-associate staff graduated in 2000 or later — one in 2000, one in 2003 and another in 2005. Only one of the associates, a 1983 graduate, is male.

"My younger vets are all female. They have children; they have families. They're working 30 to 40 hours and I've found them to be hard workers," he says. "But because the profession is profoundly more female than male, you have to be flexible with your hours, because family is No. 1 and children are No. 1, and we work around that. And it works beautifully. When they're happy, the clinic functions more efficiently."

Bianco also teaches his younger veterinarians his philosophy that, while the patient's best interest should always come before the requests of the client, client interaction is the most important part of an office visit.

"You're not going to have a medical work-up if you can't communicate with the client," he says.

And while he references the Internet more often than his medical texts these days, that is where Bianco draws the line on technology's role in his practice.

"Everything with me is face-to-face. I don't like to e-mail anybody. I don't think e-mail is a proper way to communicate with another human being. It's the easy way out, and it's not the professional way to deal with people," he says, adding it doesn't only apply to dealing with clients. "If I have to talk to doctors about a problem, it's always face-to-face."

In spite of any criticisms his colleagues have of generations X and Y, Bianco, who likes to hire fresh veterinarians a few years out of school, says the things they bring to the table make up for the challenges that come with their young age.

"I love their energy level, the enthusiasm, willingness to try new things and their knowledge base. The new ideas they have learned, new protocols and their academic background are good for any practice because it diminishes stagnation," he says. "I've had a lot of young veterinarians. They're young, energetic, with fresh ideas and willing to learn."

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