Generation (Gen) Z nurses are different: They expect immediate feedback and a clearly identified career path likely focused on a specialty. They place great importance on work-life balance with a strong tilt toward “life” over “work.” They are somewhat anxious about the world and the future.

And, in a particularly foreboding sign, Gen Z nurses are abandoning nursing in high numbers during their first years in the profession.

 To reverse this disturbing trend, nurse leaders must address and accommodate Gen Z’s specific motivations. During a recent Tipton Health Nursing Leadership webinar, an expert panel, moderated by Pam Power, Associate Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) at Tipton Health, discussed strategies and tactics to retain new nurses.

Taking part in the expert panel were:

  • Tanya Carmichael, PhD, RN, RNC-OB, Widener University Assistant Professor of Nursing, Tipton Health Nursing Excellence Consultant
  • Courtney Maloney, MSN, RN, Lasalle University Assistant Professor of Nursing, Tipton Health Nursing Excellence Consultant
  • Gabi Warren, DNP, RN, Bellarmine University Assistant Professor of Nursing

Who is Gen Z?

“Gen Z” includes those ages 11-26 (born 1997-2012), generally the children of Gen X (born 1965-1980.) This generation’s members are the world’s first digital natives, born with smart phones, social networking and other technologies fully integrated within the American landscape. Gen Z came of age in the post-9/11 security environment and amidst the 2008 financial crash, which has afforded Gen Z a cautious nature. Per Dr. Carmichael, Gen Z is “very worried about the world,” and cares about diversity, inclusion, volunteerism and other social causes outside of the clinical care setting. Gen Z is more apt to change jobs or buy products in alignment with their values.

The Gen Z Employee’s Motivations

Gen Z is competitive, resilient and concerned with upward mobility. Its members expect employers to provide customized career paths and suitable compensation (Gen Z has more school debt than other generations). This tenacity is counterbalanced by high levels of anxiety. Gen Z is aware of its knowledge gaps after a predominance of COVID-era online learning.

To address technical limitations, Dr. Carmichael and the panelists encourage fellow nurse leaders to institute mentorship, nursing residency and intense onboarding programs designed to help incoming nurses apply theoretical knowledge to complicated cases. Knowing the “why,” per Maloney, is important to Gen Z and will aid in building clinical judgment skills, per Dr. Warren, as will on-the-spot feedback.

To make invaluable in-person learning time more effective, Maloney also offered that employers can create podcasts or other digital learning tools to supplement new nurses’ on-the-job training.

Specializations, Med-Surg and Gen Z

Gen Z’s preference is to begin a nursing specialty straight out of school. Maloney attributed this to Gen Z’s acclimation to instant outcomes in a fast-paced world (something more aligned to specialties like ER and Labor and Delivery.) Accordingly, Dr. Warren and the panelists predict an exacerbated shortage of med-surg nursing, as incoming nurses will not gravitate to med-surg as a first career without motivation. Dr. Carmichael added that the “days of a med-surg foundation before a specialty is over.” Panelists suggested that employers frame med-surg as a critical foundation for success in specialized nursing and incorporate med-surg rotations into thoughtful career plans that end with a specialized nursing role for Gen Z. This will have the added benefit of filling more med-surg roles.

Supporting Next-Gen Nurses’ Emotional Health

Gen Z places a priority on mental health perhaps more than their parents and older generations in the workforce. Maloney predicts that Gen Z will not find merely “surviving” their first year of nursing practice acceptable. This requires employers to emphasize wellness on equal standing to technical education opportunities. Dr. Warren suggested that employers create options for online scheduling, which would afford Gen Z desired flexibility and the option to choose their hours. Employers should also be mindful of onboarding programs that accommodate for learning modifications and disabilities.

Panelists agreed that next-gen nurses will require training in critical soft skills, such as interacting with providers. Dr. Warren pointed out that leaders should not assume that Gen Z will enter the workforce with basic communications skills given their digital fluency and tendency to online learning the past few years. Recognizing that such mentoring will require more time and attention from senior nurses who are already stretched after the pandemic and amidst labor shortages, the panelists recommended creating designated education units within hospitals and clinical instructor roles dedicated to teaching first-year nurses.

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