FEAR of missing out, or FOMO, is one of the great undercurrents tugging at the feet of the Millennial Generation — that well connected group of people born between 1980 and 2000.
FOMO bobs up regularly on social media, where opportunities lost or gained are variously mourned or celebrated.
It appears that FOMO is also a key driver for medical students and junior doctors as they strive to get an edge over their peers in a highly competitive career environment.
These Millennial Medicos are competing with nearly twice as many of their peers as a decade ago for hospital placements, preferred rotations and specialist training places.
For some, going rural is deemed a bit of a backward step in this career race. We’re told that the FOMO perception at play here is that by going rural you may miss out on more prestigious city placements, with better facilities and exposure to the latest technology. Yet the students who think like that may actually be missing out on the more compelling advantages of rural training, and on more opportunities for their future career.
Rural Health Workforce Australia recently commissioned research on this subject, with the University of Queensland. The study was based on in-depth interviews with 41 junior doctors and 25 medical students from Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne.
If that sample is anything to go by, the Millennial Medicos are looking for quality training experiences that will develop their skills and boost their professional prospects. The research showed they prize:
- Working in smaller teams, with more attention from supervisors
- More responsibility, with opportunities for hands-on learning
- Broader scope of practice
- Greater continuity of care
These are the very benefits offered by going rural. As one student told us recently: “Rural placements are not career limiting. They are an opportunity to excel in practical and theoretical components of clinical medicine, make connections, smash your exams and advance your future career.”
When asked what else contributed to successful rural placements, the Millennial Medicos wanted strong professional and social support.
Not surprisingly, good internet access was deemed very important to stay in touch with friends and peers for study, research and remote clinical support. A preference for flexibility in relation to part-time training was also expressed by some of junior doctors.
We decided to explore a little further and asked 1000 university health students about their attitudes to clinical placements. These students belong to Rural Health Clubs, which we support through the National Rural Health Students’ Network.
Although this study is not published, this broader sample of medical, nursing and allied health students reiterated the benefits of rural training found in our research.
In fact, the number one answer from nursing and allied health students to the question of what factors they considered important when deciding to undertake a clinical placement was “opportunities for hands-on learning”.
Financial costs associated with placements, such as accommodation, were important for nursing and allied health students who clearly need more assistance in this area.
So what does all this mean for rural and remote health?
Our investigations have uncovered some defining characteristics about the new millennial generation of health professionals. They:
- Are tech savvy (rural infrastructure and technology are critical)
- Value work–life balance (rostering needs to be more flexible)
- Thrive on social connection (team-based care fits into their world construct)
- Question the status quo (are likely to adapt more readily to new workforce models)
- Are competitive and are prepared to shop around (the rural health sector needs to “sell” itself more effectively).
These characteristics mean that the future workforce will be different to the past, as will future health service models and the workers they need.
Meanwhile, Australia continues to invest heavily in health care undergraduate and vocational training in the hope of developing a home-grown rural health workforce.
Matching culture to that workforce is going to be critical as these Millennial Medicos, nurses and allied health workers explore the various roads to rural.
The greatest FOMO is in Australian rural communities who will miss out if policymakers and health services fail to connect with the current up and coming generation of health professionals.
Mr Greg Mundy is the CEO of Rural Health Workforce Australia.