This article was written by Steve Turpin, OD, and has been vetted by the CovalentCareers team for inclusion in our resource library.


Millennials as a group have received a reputation for being entitled, selfish, and disloyal. And,  those are some of nicer adjectives used to describe them. Even young professionals in the health care fields haven’t been able to avoid that stigma. 

Whether the stereotypes are rightfully earned or not, it is true that millennials a different breed from past generations of workers - in some ways. 

They tend to view situations and opportunities in a slightly different way. 

What they want isn’t particularly different from the baby boomer generation or any other, but the tactics used to attract healthcare workers in the past may not work as well with those currently trying to join the workforce.

What Millennial Healthcare Workers are Looking for in a Job

  • Respect – They want to feel like valued member of the team, not a cog.
  • Fulfillment – They want to feel like their work makes a difference.
  • Recognition – They want to be rewarded for the work they do.
  • Challenge – They want create new ways of solving problems.

That’s not an unreasonable list. Most of the workforce, regardless of age, want these qualities in a job. (1)

The difference is that millennials have come to expect gratification immediately. They tend to focus on the benefits they will get in the short term.  Employers must fuel the raw drive and enthusiasm they express in a controlled way in order to reap the benefits of their young healthcare employees.

So how do you do that?

Pay for Results

High performers want to be compensated for the work they do. 

And you should be willing to pay for it. In 2016, 64% of millennials said they were stressed over their finances. (2) That percentage is likely much higher for new graduates in the health profession. 

Burdened with huge student loan debt, new grads are chomping at the bit to get to work and earn a living.

But, their ambition can inadvertently be tempered by a fixed salary. 

In this day and age, simply showing up and doing the job one was hired to perform isn’t cutting it anymore. In many ways that’s a good thing. It places the responsibility directly on the employee to do their best work in order to be paid. It’s your defense against complacency. It also protects the employer from over compensating for underproduction. 

With time, you can adjust percentages, benchmarks, and reimbursements as the employee develops their skills. It’s a little more customizable than a standard raise and helps keep young practitioners motivated and driven. And, bumping up the compensation by a percentage point is going to cost you significantly less than hiring a new associate if your current ones decides to leave due to a stagnant wage. 

Just another advantage of paying for the performance of your staff. 

That’s not to say your pay strategy has to be completely based on how well employee does. It can be a mixture of a base with bonuses based on attaining specified goals. In fact, that’s probably the best pay structure. You provide security with the base and incentivize production simultaneously. 

If you do decide to only pay for performance, you better be able to let that employee work hard. How do you expect to keep great doctors and therapists with a production based compensation package if you can’t keep their schedules full? 

One young doctor had this to say,“ I like that I earn a percentage of my production, but there are days I barely make enough to cover my gas and meals for the day.”

Ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out the best option for your specific practice and make sure to incentivize the behaviors that allow your employees to do their best work. 

Responsibility on Their Terms

Responsibilities and expectations must be explicitly discussed from the very beginning with your new hires (and all staff for that matter). Firm timelines for task completion should also be established. 

But, some flexibility in HOW those tasks are completed is necessary in order to satisfy the younger millennial healthcare workers. Top performers will relish in the freedom and often times make the process more efficient. 

That’s not to say you should release them blindly on a project with no guidance. Training is important. Show them how to perform a job, but also challenge them to find a better way to get it done. 

If your procedure protocol is non-negotiable, you better have a darn good reason why. “That’s just the way we’ve always done it,” is an unacceptable answer. You must provide detailed and specific explanations to back up your methods. 

If your current procedure truly is the best option and your employees choose not to listen, they will quickly come to the realization that their experimental methods are inferior.  That will only serve to reinforce their respect for you and your skills. They will become your best advocate. But, that requires you give them a little room to test some of their own ideas. 

It might be a little clunky or inefficient at the beginning but a new method might you save twice as much time as it cost to get off the ground initially.  It’s a chance to give them the challenge and fulfillment they are looking for. So be flexible. Let your millennial employees be their own boss to a certain degree. 

Be a Good Mentor

“I’m really excited about getting started at this new practice, but I’m nervous about being the only doctor there. What happens when  a patient comes in with something I’ve never seen before? What do I do then?” 

I’ve heard comments like this from just about every new graduate I’ve talked to coming out of school. Having a mentor they can trust and learn from is a huge selling point (probably more important than salary) for this group. 

Luckily, many employers looking to hire young practitioners have decades of experience and knowledge to impart on their new colleagues and help them to hone their clinic efficiency and instincts. The trick is doing it in such a way that off-putting. 

Millennials grew up in an environment that provided an excessive amount of positive (sometimes false) feedback. Their ability to deal with criticism might be less developed than in those who are a bit older. As a result, providing constructive criticism can become an art. 

One of the best ways to mentor new docs is to lead by example. Even though many millennial healthcare workers them won’t explicitly say it, they are constantly modeling themselves after more experienced doctors in some ways. 

Here are a few of the things millennial healthcare workers glean from more experienced workers: 

  • Social cues
  • Treatment and interpersonal strategies
  • Language and terminology
  • Mannerisms, gestures, and body language
  • Clinical skills 

Young millennial workers use this input to build their practice habits. It’s your responsibility to act like the doctor you want them to be. 

Seeking Input

Another strategy is to keep the line of communication open by asking new associates questions about some of their clinical decisions. 

This serves three crucial purposes: 

  • First, it demonstrates an interest their work, which they will appreciate and respond to. 
  • Second, it forces them to reflect and provide a rationale for why they chose a specific treatment plan. You might even learn something new about a new strategy or technique. 
  • Finally, by initiating communication with them, it makes them more likely to ask you questions when they are unsure. If they feel like you’re inaccessible, they are more likely to “wing it” and make more mistakes. 

The key is making your questions come from a place of curiosity, not one of accusation. The purpose of asking questions is instantly defeated if the person you're asking feels like they have to defend themselves. 

It’s a tricky skill to master. 

Sometimes no matter what you do, they other person will get defensive. This gives you a hint they might be insecure about their choices and may need a little extra help. You just need to remind that you’re all on the same team, not opposing sides, with the common goal of providing great care your patients. 

Retaining the Top Millennial Healthcare Workers

One of the biggest complaints employers have about millennials is their lack of loyalty. To many of them, their job is a piece of the puzzle of their life. Much of the time it isn’t even the biggest piece.  

So how do you keep those who think positions like the one they are in are a dime a dozen? 

You convince them otherwise. 

You show them they are in a position of prestige. By communicating that your practice isn’t a place where just anyone can work, you instill pride in your workforce. (3) If the millennial group is one thing, it’s prideful. The will understand the idea that it’s a privilege, not a right, to work for you practice.

The prerequisite to all of this is running an exceptional practice. If you’re not “the best” in some aspect, you won’t be able to keep the best. Before you add “exclusivity and superiority” as selling point to new applicants turn the spotlight on yourself and honestly assess if that’s the case. If not, you’re better off using other strategies.  

Nothing is more off-putting than someone touting how wonderful a product or service is when there is obvious evidence to the contrary.


Younger employees can be a great resource for your practice. It might just take a little different strategy to find and keep the top performers. If you are able to communicate that your practice is top-tier and can provide great compensation, some creative freedom, and support in the form of a mentor, you’re likely to attract a number of candidates that would be a good fit for your practice. 

The first step is to turn the lens on yourself and figure out what you have to offer your employees so you can then match with young practitioners who have something to offer your practice. 


  1. Costanza, D. P., Badger, J. M., Fraser, R. L., Severt, J. B., & Gade, P. A. (2012). Generational differences in work-related attitudes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Business and Psychology, 27(4), 375-394. doi:
  2. P. (2017, April). 2017 Employee Financial Wellness Survey. Retrieved August 01, 2017, from
  3. Tulgan, B. (ed) (2016) Retain the Best of Them, One Day at a Time, in Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA. doi: 10.1002/9781119215073.ch9

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