A Generation Poised to Thrive in This Changing World

The overt theme of this issue of Penn Medicine is the millennial generation in medicine. But a magazine has enough space to show a view with some depth, so in fact there are two mirror themes propped up alongside the central one: digital transformation and creativity. In our cover story, technological change and generational change are inextricable as driving forces for advancements for equality and diversity. And creativity unites the other two features in this issue, as a quality celebrated among many Penn medical students and recent graduates, and as the cornerstone of the prolific inventiveness of the late Constantin Cope, MD.

These same three themes reflect back from the commencement address that Robert Wachter, MD’83, chair of the department of Medicine at UCSF, delivered to the Perelman School of Medicine’s 2017 graduating class.

“When you entered college, medicine was an industry whose information backbones were the piece of paper, the three-ring binder, the post-it note, and the fax machine,” Wachter observed. “Now it is the electronic medical record.”

But this technology, he warned, is still in a time of transition prone to a problem called the “productivity paradox of I.T.” Gains in productivity and quality from new tech are not immediate; the creative imagining required to achieve the technology’s full potential comes later. One key lesson, Wachter told the graduates, is that “it’s smart young people like you who are best positioned to do that.” Younger doctors already ask why electronic notes are flat digital pages with tabs, only to learn it’s because that’s what was done in the old days of paper binders. “When we ditched the paper, we just digitized the same old note,” Wachter said. “And young people say, ‘That’s absurd. Haven’t you ever seen a Facebook wall? Or a Twitter feed? How about a collaboratively created note, a la Wikipedia? Why isn’t there audio or video?’”

The creative minds of the millennial generation—as Wachter celebrated, and as the stories in this issue illustrate—are ready to take on that reimagining of our digital future.

“We have the opportunity today to do more for our patients than ever before,” he said. “And you have the knowledge, skills, values, and habits of mind to thrive in this changing world.”

Wachter’s full speech is well worth reading, no matter what generation you belong to. Read it over on Wachter’s blog here


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