Differences among Millennials vs Generation Z and the Effects This Plays on Medical Education

Abtin Farahmand, MD


Medical education continues to transform itself based on the generation of learners being educated. As an example with Millennials, medical schools and educators have reduced the number of large didactic sessions and have incorporated more technological educational platforms for these learners. From a medical school and in larger context health care perspective, Generation Z (also known as “iGen”) is now becoming the predominant demographic matriculating. From a medical education perspective, it has been demonstrated the importance of curtailing how education is taught based on the unique features of each generation.

Key Points:

  • Mental health is more prevalent than previous generations
  • Volunteering has diminished compared to previous generations
  • A higher need for mentorship and guidance rather than independent learning is seen among Generation Z

Whether this can be surmised from our society as a whole, there has been an increase in focus of mental health among medical students. This was prompted by reports demonstrating that nearly half of medical students suffered from burn out. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated nearly 12% of students faced suicidal ideation and over 80% demonstrate signs of psychological stressors in general. Medical schools have responded by having an increased emphasis and funding toward services such as counseling as well as adjusting educational experiences and grading rubrics to lower mental health disturbances. Unfortunately, Generation Z is faced with an even higher prevalence of mental health that is also getting worse in time. Reports demonstrate that between 2005-2017, there was nearly a 50% increase in suicidal ideations; this is as a reminder pre-COVID, which already has led to increase in burnout and stress among health care employees. It is important that our medical education for this generation emphasizes mental health safety and ways to mitigate mental health not only for the students’ sake, but also for their future patients as it has been demonstrated psychological distress leads to diminished abilities for individuals to empathize and be altruistic.


Volunteering is on the decline among Generation Z. Though nearly 75% of all medical schools have student-run clinics and volunteering is considered integral in the application process for medical school, less than a third of Generation Z students are likely to perform volunteer work once admitted to college. A recent survey demonstrated as few as 12% of first year college students participated in volunteer activities. Interestingly, there is a unique difference among this generation in how they tend to volunteer when they decide to do so. Generation Z is more likely to utilize entrepreneurial and technological skills to address a problem rather than direct “hands on work” if you will. This does lead to opportunities in medical schools to foster this generation’s unique focus on technology and entrepreneurship.


Generation Z tends to also have a more unique stance, when it comes to more sensitive or disturbing educational topics such as rape, abortion, addiction, abuse and assault. These are key subjects in medical education with the hopes that with education in these materials will allow physicians to be more empathetic and communicate more effectively when such topics arise with patients. Already in the undergraduate level, students within Generation Z have demanded for trigger or content warnings be issued prior to discussing such material and for there to be safe spaces for them to go to feel safe after such discussions. Interestingly, in 2018, fewer than 11% of students were aware of what a trigger warning is, and less than a third support their use in medical education. However, as generation Z becomes more immersed in medical education, likely there may have to be considerations of adjustments towards this sentiment.


Lastly, in terms of physical spaces for learning, Generation Z has been described as having nearly opposite sentiments compared to Millennials. Though Millennials, similar to previous generations, preferred large, open unstructured environments which allowed for communal work, Generation Z tends to prefer quiet spaces where task-specific activities are readily apparent. They also have a much higher preference towards mentorship as an expectation as a way of learning rather than learning materials independently.


As seen, each generation poses a new set of challenges for educators and educational systems to best optimize the learning experience. Generation Z is the newest generation entering the medical system and it is important from a healthcare perspective we adjust our learning for this new generation. A higher emphasis on mentorship, mental health, potential trigger warnings for disturbing materials, and a further emphasis on technological educational activities are some ways to cater towards this newer generation.


Plochocki, Jeffrey. Several Ways Generation Z May Shape the Medical School Landscape. Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development. Volume6:1-4. October 2019.

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