three contract nurses talking and walking through a hospital

An Inside Look at Generation Gaps in Nursing

Generation gaps will always exist. In the 1950s, young people thought their parents were “square” while their parents thought their children were doomed to become juvenile delinquents when they started listening to Elvis and reading novels like Catcher in the Rye. The problem is the same today. Baby Boomers think Millennials are entitled, and Millennials think their parents and grandparents are out of touch with technological dinosaurs.

In the healthcare industry, and especially in contract nursing, there has never been a more interesting dynamic in the workplace. Contract nurses arrive on the scene, ready to do the job to the best of their ability, yet are sometimes met with suspicion and judgment by permanent staff.

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The issue isn’t personal. It’s human nature. Whenever we meet someone new, we judge them, whether we admit it or not. We intrinsically assess people to determine if it’s safe to invite them into our world. All of this stems from the way were raised and what we’ve come to believe about ourselves and others.

When you have a melting pot of permanent and contract nurses from different generations and backgrounds coming together in a unit, a bit of judgment is almost inevitable.

According to the American Nurses Association periodical Integrating Generational Perspectives in Nursing, for the first time, there are four different generations of nurses working side by side in hospitals and facilities. Each generation was raised according to the social and economic standards of the time, and their values and expectations developed based on those experiences. Take a look at these different generations of RNs:


Veterans (born between 1922-1945)
These RNs were born during the Great Depression and World War II. They believe in structure and saving since they often went without as children. They believe that authority figures should be obeyed and respected and that hard work will eventually pay off.

Baby Boomers (born between 1945-1960)
These were the members of the original “me” generation. They were raised in stable homes with enough of everything, giving them more freedom to choose what they wanted to do with their lives. This generation strives for personal and professional growth and works to improve the way things are done.

Generation X (born between 1960 and 1980)
With more parents divorced and out of the house, this generation grew up more independent and resourceful. They are more comfortable with technology than previous generations and they are always looking for ways to improve the way things are done. They also believe strongly in a work/life balance.

Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000)
These technologically savvy RNs are committed to making the world a better place. They typically have come from smaller families, which means they had more opportunities than other generations. They are more likely to look for mentors in the workplace since they were used to having a lot of guidance as children. Millennials have embraced a less personal style of communicating, which can be perceived as a lack of interest in a hospital setting. They work hard but expect more rewards for their efforts in less time.


Today’s Issues in Nursing
More experienced nurses often frown upon changes that Millennials have brought into the workplace.  While Millennials strive to be themselves, experienced RNs find tattoos, long hair, and long fingernails distasteful and unprofessional. Millennials, on the other hand, often look to older nurses for support, understanding, and direction, but don’t always get what they need. This can lead to generational misunderstandings.

The Solution
While there is no hard and fast rule to easing multi-generational frustrations, the best solutions come from within. It’s up to each individual to suspend judgment and try to put themselves in the shoes of the younger or older colleague. Understanding where they’ve come from and what they’ve lived through can help narrow the gaps between generations and foster a sense of respect.

Contract nurses, in particular, need to respect the culture of every facility they visit and do their best to accept their colleagues, even if they don’t agree with how they dress or behave. Contract nursing assignments provide RNs the opportunity to learn and grow, personally and professionally, and broaden their understanding of how people live in different parts of the country.

In the end, nurses are all the same on the inside: all are compassionate, caring, hard-working, and committed to providing the best care for patients.

Like our mothers always told us, it’s the beauty on the inside that counts.

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