Marginalization of millennials: Changing the clinical research landscape

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Pulse on Global Trials by Matthew Howes

Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, are the subjects of an inVentiv study conducted earlier this year. The report, Millennial Mindset: The Collaborative Clinician, explores the changing expectations of clinicians and how they prefer a collaborative approach to nearly all aspects of their practice.

Often stereotyped by negative traits like short attention span, poor work ethic, mistrust of institutions and even narcissism, millennials have increasingly become the subject of debate among older generations who worry about the future of medicine in the hands of their younger counterparts. Generation Y today is only 35% of the civilian workforce. As with other industries, millennials are making their mark on clinical trials—a mark that is sure to change the industry as we know it.


A millennial’s clinical context begins with the way they’ve been educated. Medical students today can binge watch six hours of streaming video without getting out of bed instead of sitting through 90-minute lectures four times a week. They turn to Google instead of paging through dusty, dog-eared textbooks. They are the first “digital natives” raised on technology that allows them to build relationships through non-personal interfaces and access vast arrays of information instantly, on demand, wherever they are.

To be clear, millennials aren’t defined by digital technologies. Rather, they are redefining business and society with the new norms that technology enables. As such, any discussion about the future of healthcare would not be relevant without understanding it through the context of the Generation Y zeitgeist.

Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, identifies purpose as the key driver of innovation, and offers numerous examples of how it is radically reshaping careers and organizations. He said, the millennial generation is “prioritizing relationships, impact and personal growth and, in the process, changing the economy.”

For clinical trials, this means the workforce of the purpose generation will be focused on what matters to patients, not just what is important to the people behind the studies. Forty-four percent of millennial doctors say they most value patient-centricity, and that will likely translate into structural changes in the industry.

The complexity of clinical trials and the highly regulated environment in which they operate are at odds with millennial expectations. This generation of self-starters, which has produced a multitude of billionaire entrepreneurs, has little patience for processes and systems that are not user-friendly. They reject rigid corporate structures while corralling information and expecting constant feedback.

As digital natives at ease with social media, millennials will push companies to find faster, cheaper and better ways of operating. They want to be a click or tap away from investigators, site staff and patients—and they will be.

Younger staff don’t understand the slow, top-down approaches of most trials. We should expect this generation to tear down walls between sponsors, vendors and sites involved in clinical programs. Clinical research of the future will see research sites and investigators brought in before protocols are developed to create a highly collaborative team environment.

Millennials around the world will come together to solve basic logistical issues for clinical trials in emerging markets. With the growing demand of value economics in the EU and the need for patient reported outcomes to create value propositions in the U.S., they will accelerate the adoption of mobile devices in clinical trials.

The days of the cowboy clinician are fading with the sunset. Independent physicians, private practices and even lone professors are being replaced with more interdependent organizational models. Millennial clinicians prefer working in research cohorts, hospital teams and group practices. In fact, the number of physicians employed by hospitals has doubled over the past decade.

A conversation that took place at this year’s MM&M inVentiv Health Roundtable supports this. One participant revealed that millennial doctors “enjoy access to a huge network of fellow physicians, and are constantly collaborating with and learning from them. It’s a team-oriented approach.”

Team-orientation is driven in large part by a shared value of balance between career and personal obligations and opportunities. While millennials may take their work home with them, they report working fewer hours and being less stressed because the burden isn’t theirs alone. Responsibilities are shared within teams.

This is a big change for the established norms of clinical organizational cultures. It’s no wonder that managers and executives from prior generations experience tension and communication breakdowns. But in the next five years, millennials will make up 70% of study coordinators, clinical research associates and research nurses. They are tomorrows leaders and executives. Rather than complain about the organizational problems millennials pose, it’s time to unlock their potential and understand the impact they will have on the next generation of medicine. 


Matthew Howes is executive vice president, Strategy & Growth for PALIO. A leader in digital strategy, he has provided the fuel for digital businesses visited by over 100 million people every month. Email

This article was reprinted from CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »

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