Medical school educators need to know what distinguishes the newest generation of students from their predecessors so that the next wave of physicians receives the best educational experience.

Five OUWB faculty members offer insights into teaching Gen Z med students
Gen Z

Medical school educators need to know what distinguishes the newest generation of students from their predecessors so that the next wave of physicians receives the best educational experience.

That’s according to five members of Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine’s Department of Foundational Medical Studies who delivered a workshop on the topic last week as part of OUWB’s Medical Education Week.

“Adapting Teaching Strategies for the New iGeneration: Translating Generational Research to the Remote Classroom,” was presented by: Sarah Lerchenfeldt, Pharm.D., assistant professor; Stefanie Attardi, Ph.D., assistant professor; Rebecca Pratt, Ph.D., professor; Kara Sawarynski, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Foundational Medical Studies; and Tracey Taylor, Ph.D., associate professor and assistant dean for Diversity & Inclusion.

The session was built around two studies published within the last year by the cohort: “Twelve Tips for Interfacing with the New Generation of Medical Students: iGen,” and “Adapting Strategically to Changing Times in Health Professions Education: A Generational Workshop for Educators.”

“We really encourage you to go into learning about iGen with a totally open mind,” said Sawarynski. “They have a distinct set of characteristics that are neither positive or negative, but they are very different than previous generations.”

“Gaining a better understanding of those (characteristics) will help you hopefully work with our students in a more productive manner,” she added.

‘Be prepared’

Generally, iGen, aka Gen Z, refers to those born after 1995. Their lives have been shaped by, among other things, the rapid evolution of technology, and several big “generation-defining moments.”

Taylor said the OUWB cohort’s interest in the uniqueness of iGen started to grow exponentially in 2018, when they read a book as part of a book club. The book was “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious,” by Jean Twenge, Ph.D.

The cohort followed that experience with additional research to eventually publish its own findings. Subsequent to the studies being published, the authors developed the workshop presented May 17 during OUWB’s Medical Education Week.



“iGen members have grown up with access to all of these different types of technology and have used them really in all aspects of their lives,” Sawarynski said during the presentation. “They also have had a series of very distinct, generation-defining moments: an economic downturn; 9/11; global terrorism; changes in family structure and gender roles; immigration tensions; school shooting, and more recently, social justice movements.”

The OUWB cohort noted that, in general, iGen is growing up at a different rate, experiencing social interactions very differently than previous generations, becoming dependent on technology, embracing equality, and having high expectations with regard to safety.

“Due to multiple and surprising generational differences…educators might struggle to reach iGen members and are encouraged to re-examine instructional methods with iGen in mind,” the group wrote in “Adapting Strategically to Changing Times in Health Professions Education.

Being aware of the differences is important, said Sawarynski, because iGen currently make up the majority of OUWB classes.

“We want to encourage you to be patient, be excited to embrace them, to learn from them, and at the same time be prepared to teach them,” she said.

‘Consider what this generation needs’

Beyond discussing what sets iGen apart, the workshop sought to help attendees come up with their own “iGen-friendly educational interventions,” and to discuss teaching practices that could be implemented for iGen.

In doing so, they talked about the various characteristics that make iGen unique and possible appropriate responses.

For example, one topic addressed was the vast amount of time iGen spends in front of a screen on a daily basis (over 15 hours a day during the COVID-19 pandemic). Attardi said research indicates “screen activities are linked to less happiness, and non-screen activities are linked to more happiness.” Still, the screen time essentially does present opportunities for educators trying to reach iGen.


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“One of the silver linings is that we can use screens and social media to engage with our students,” said Attardi.

Also discussed was the attention span of iGen. Lerchenfeldt said iGen students are less likely to read books, magazines, and/or newspapers as their use of digital media has essentially replaced those activities.

Lerchenfeldt cited one study that found college students using their laptops switched tasks every 19 seconds on average. She said educators need to be aware of how these habits can impact the ability to understand more complex issues and develop important critical thinking skills.

“Online learning (is a) preferences for this generation, especially because of the convenience of it, (but) their more limited attention spans may challenge their motivation and discipline that is needed for online learning,” she said.

IGen also has different work expectations, whereby they value personal and professional lives equally and want opportunities to work without compromising their freedom.



“They really prefer some flexibility in how they want to accomplish tasks, and might want more flexible work hours as well,” she said, adding that iGen is more likely to seek out environments that prioritize social responsibility and diversity.

With the differences between iGen and other generations largely identified, Lerchenfeldt urged educators to really think about what today’s students need when creating learning tasks or assignments.

“We need to consider what this generation needs to really help them become the best learners when we are creating these materials,” she said.

Before the workshop ended, Pratt said it’s important for educators who might associate as Baby Boomers or Generation X to not feel as if they are in a hopeless situation with regard to teaching iGen.

“It just means that I have come from a very different background than where the current students at OUWB are, and I will need to figure out how to meet them halfway so that I maintain who and what has influenced me as an individual and as a generation, but also how I can meet these students where they are,” she said.

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at 

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