Kids these days, part 3

I recently attended a meeting for rehabilitation managers in my community titled, “New Graduates and Generation Y: Training for Emotional Intelligence and Face-To-Face Communications Skills.”  This is Part 3 in a series of posts on the themes of that discussion about the Millennial generation.  You may also want to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story about a kindergarten class that tweets 3 days a week.  After reading the story and viewing the accompanying video (see below), I couldn’t stop smiling.  With her class project, kindergarten teacher Jennifer Aaron is addressing the “technology gap” using a brilliant strategy, one I think we should model in our professional health care education classrooms as well as our clinics.   She has become familiar with the technology, has learned how to use it, and is teaching her students (and probably their parents) how to use it, too.

One of the themes that arose – and involved much discussion – during the area rehabilitation managers meeting I attended last week were concerns about students’ and new grads’ use of technology:

“Students and new grads are always texting, playing Words with Friends, and checking Facebook. They don’t have good professional boundaries when it comes to checking and using their mobile devices.  They know how to Facebook and text, but they struggle with “real-life” communication and relationships.”

These concerns are valid and often true.  We have some of these same frustrations with “kids these days” in professional education.  And why wouldn’t we?

Although there are many well-documented characteristics (stereotypes?) associated with the Millenial generation, what really sets them apart is their use of technology.  They are curious and fearless when it comes to technology.  They are constantly connected to their friends, family, and world in a way no other generation has before.  They enjoy mobility (smart phones) and real-time interaction (Twitter and texting).  They don’t want to be tethered to a PC (or even a laptop) or wait for email.  This technology has been around as long as they can remember, and they often identify as “digital natives.”  They are accustomed to using technology in every aspect of their lives – except education and practice.  The “head-in-the-sand, if-we-ignore-this-maybe-it-will-go-away” approach we’ve taken to technology (and – in particular – social media) in education and health care has not served our students well.  Suddenly, they enter professional education or a clinical internship (or even a first job) and they’re told they’re supposed to put their mobile device away.  But they don’t wear a watch, so how will they tell time?  And what about the anatomy app on their phone they use for quick reference?  They should hide their social media profiles (or at least make them private).  But what if they want to “like” the America Physical Therapy Association on Facebook?  Tweet a link for a new Physical Therapy Journal article they just read? Or start a blog and a Facebook page where they can (gasp!) friend their patients so they can share good, reputable health care information?

The truth is, many Millennials don’t know how to use technology and social media in a professional, appropriate way because no one is teaching them.  No one is modeling it for them.  They are figuring it out on their own, and when they make mistakes, us old folks wag our giant fingers at them and say, “I told you that texting/tweeting/Facebooking/smartphone app using wasn’t a good idea.  We should just ban it all.”  How’s that working for us?

We all need to take a cue from Ms. Aaron and her kindergarten class.  Part of the professional PT education curriculum should be about appropriate, professional use of technology and social media.  Instead of telling our students to “turn off and put away” their mobile devices, we should be using them during class as an opportunity to engage students in education and the profession, all the while teaching them to be better digital citizens.  Schools and health care facilities should re-think broad policies banning mobile devices and social media.  It is time that we recognize that social media is part of “real life,” and that the next generation of health care providers will be expected to have technology and social media skills.  Their patients (and the public) will demand that they engage with them using social media.  They will walk into a clinic with no Facebook page, no Twitter feed, and no blog; see a physical therapist walk up to them with a paper chart and a medical reference book and wonder, “Is she practicing physical therapy like it’s 1995, too?”

It is time to stop approaching technology and social media in health care and education from a risk management perspective and start approaching it as an opportunity to educate, learn, engage.  An opportunity to elevate our practice and the profession.

If Ms. Aaron and her kindergartners can do it, we can, too.

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