How to Support the Next Nursing Generation: The Z's

It's time to start thinking about the next generation of nurses - the iGen. The oldest of this generation is just graduating college now and they are already leaving their mark on nursing programs and the workforce. Learn a few things you need to know about Generation Z. Nurses General Nursing HowTo


  • Workforce Development Columnist
    Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement.
How to Support the Next Nursing Generation: The Z's

You've finally figured out what makes your millennial co-workers tick. Time for a breather? Not a chance! Right on the coattails of the millennials is the next generation - the Zees.

Generation Z is made up of people born between 1996 and 2010. There are currently over 23 million Zees, and they will be the fastest-growing generation in the workplace over the next five years. Every generation is given a few nicknames - so, besides Generation Z, you may also hear this generation called the iGen, Zeds, Zees, and Centennials.

To make sure you understand this generation, here are a few traits and characteristics:

  • They don't remember 9/11. Some of them were born, but none of them were old enough to remember it happening.
  • They are cloud-natives. Their world has been full of "iEverything."
  • While many of their characteristics are still being defined, what we know so far is that they are self-reliant, self-aware, goal-oriented and appreciate diversity.
  • They don't remember a time before social media, so they live their lives online. This includes friendships, family, and education.

Now that you know the basics let's explore what you need to know about them as they enter the nursing workforce.

iGen as Learners

They were raised and educated in settings of inclusivity and diversity, which has formed them to be the most diverse and open-minded generation ever. They are changing our nursing classrooms and will likely change the workplace too.

Because they are technologically savvy, they want to use the internet to help them learn. Whether in college-level courses, orientation programs, or certification classes, they expect that the internet will be part of the curriculum. And, you need to know that it is estimated that they only have an attention span of about 8 seconds - so, let them multi-task - they have been doing it their whole life.

Zees as Professionals

They have grown up watching their Baby-Boomer grandparents work well past 65 years of age. Their Generation X parents have gone into debt with school loans that are still being paid off today. Where does this leave Generation Z as professionals?

There isn't much data on the Zee's concerning professionalism as they are just entering the workforce. But, so far, it looks like they are going to be more entrepreneurial, educated, and diverse than any generation before them.

They find honesty as the most important quality for leadership. They desire work-life balance while making money at a stable job. And, they want to have face-time with management.

Because of their comfort level with technology, image what this generation could do with advancements like telehealth and Artificial Intelligence (AI) as they join the nursing workforce. One potential concern is their ability to critically think because of the amount of interruptions and multitasking they have been doing their entire lives. However, this is merely anecdotal due to little research into the actual abilities of this generation.

As we watch the iGen enter the workforce, what can current nurses do to help? According to Priscilla Smith-Trudeau, "Putting diversity to work in the workplace, understanding each generational cohort, and accommodating generational differences so as to capitalize on these differences in attitudes, values, and behaviors must be the common goal of all nurses."

This means we must be ready to embrace, foster growth and mentor these new nurses who will be joining the ranks over the next few years.

Here a few ways to help the Zee's enter the nursing workforce:

STEP 1: Provide Technology

Incorporate internet learning into orientation. Understand that their lives are lived on their phones and other devices. Be sure to educate them on expectations of when and how to use social media and technology appropriately. Incorporate simulation, problem-based learning, games, and case studies into the curriculum to keep this generation engaged.

STEP 2: Show Respect for Diversity

Be sure to include them in groups and committees at work. And, be ready for them to expect these groups to show diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

STEP 3: Foster Retention

With every generation, we want to foster retention as nurses. Much information floats around about bullying in nursing. Let's get it right with this generation by welcoming them with open arms and helping them remain in nursing for many years.

STEP 4: Appreciate their Respect

They respect authority. Show them you appreciate it by fostering strong mentorships with them early on in their careers.

STEP 5: Empower their Practice

You know they are different than any other generation of nurses you have encountered. Their world has been far more technologically-savvy and quite frankly, scarier than what we experienced as children. So, let's empower them to be the best clinicians possible.

Are you a Gen-Z nurse or do you work with a Gen-Z nurse? What can you tell us about them? How do you feel we can support and foster this generation of nurses?

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa is a Quality Assurance Nurse, professor, writer, and business owner. She enjoys empowering other nurses to find their passions and create a unique nursing career that fits their passions, desires, and gifts. She is owner of www., a website dedicated to helping women find their creative passions through writing and co-owner of, a start-up Nursing CE company that will offer online courses soon.

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275 Posts

Not wanting to sound harsh, but while I wish Gen-Z all the success in their professional endeavors, when did it become my, other nurses', or the entire profession's responsibility to support this new generation? When I entered into professional nursing 26 years ago, the expectation was that we work hard, keep our heads down, our mouths closed, and that, eventually, we would assimilate and be accepted into the culture. While I certainly had some awesome (and not so awesome) preceptors, no one went out of their way to learn my generation's unique needs or learning styles! I'm disturbed by what I now perceive as a sense of entitlement and a 'what can you do for me' or'accept me as I am' attitude-not a 'how can I help' or 'what can I bring to the table mentality! We've gone forwards in so many areas of healthcare, however, this is one area that I feel we're going the wrong direction!

Mergirlc, RN

679 Posts


Agree w/ the above poster.

This sentence stuck out like a sore thumb to me: " need to know that it is estimated that they only have an attention span of about 8 seconds."

I totally agree w/ this statement and not in a good way. There is no way I'd ask them to multitask anything based on what I saw. As an older adult student (over 30), I had the experience of taking a microbiology class w/ many "Generation Z-ers" and after that 8 seconds, they pick up their phone and start texting all their friends in the middle of lectures. Then they have to keep asking me what page the teacher is on or which powerpoint slide because they're not paying attention. Granted, there were a few in this group who did want to learn, but it was a select few.

That 8-second attention span is going to kill somebody if they plan on being a nurse.

Specializes in ICU.

I haven't seen a single legitimate citation for this 8 second attention span beyond a few marketing sites. You crap on younger generations at your own risk. Every one of the people in my nursing classes that derailed lesions with stories about their second cousin's wife's hypertension was mid 30s-40s but I don't make generalizations about a whole generation. And no, I'm not gen Z.

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

97 Articles; 21,242 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

Short Attention Spans. Given that individuals from Generation Z are tech-savvy, it goes without saying that they have an incredibly short attention span. This means that marketers should strive to deliver pitches and ads short enough to hold their attention but long enough to impart important messages.

Time For Post-Millennial Marketing: How To Reach Generation Z |

From Forbes:

It's common knowledge that consumer attention spans are dwindling. The average attention span of a millennial is a whopping 12 seconds-and for Gen Zers, that number is an even more disappointing 8 seconds.

5 D​ifferences ​Between ​Marketing ​To​ M​illennials V​s​. ​Gen Z

I certainly don't have a clue how they determined the amt of time (8 seconds) but I do know from dealing with grandchildren in this age range (gen z) that you have to catch their attention very quickly and give instructions very simply.


9 Posts

Totally agree. Also the N C L E X has been dumped down. Also, one needs an attention span of more than 8 seconds to understand a concept.


9 Posts

Thank you! What's so great about being on their stupid phones all the time!!! They do not pay attention to anything else when on their phones!

macawake, MSN

2,141 Posts

I think it's time to don our nursing critical thinking caps and try to find the source for the shortened attention span claim...

I think there's a good reason why posters haven't been able to figure out exactly where the eight second attention span result comes from...

Busting the attention span myth - BBC News

The above article says that the 8 second attention span figure, while it was mentioned in a study by Microsoft, the study didn't say that it was the source of it. When the author of the article attempted to identify and verify the original source for the number, things got a bit confusing. I suggest you guys read the BBC article.

Opinion | The Eight-Second Attention Span - The New York Times

The above is an opinion piece, but I think it's worth a read.

Microsoft Attention Spans Research Report | Attention | Advertising

Okay, nurse critical thinking cap on...

If the attention span has gone from 12 seconds in 2000, to 8 seconds in 2013... What does that mean? What exactly is the definition of "attention span"?

In the year 2000 people, including young people, were able to become physicians and pass the bar to become lawyers. Air traffic controllers sure as heck had the ability to focus for more than 12 seconds at a time, otherwise aircraft would have been crashing and falling from the sky in droves....

So what consequences will the decreased attention span from 12 to 8 seconds have? (Assuming we even accept these numbers as scientifically verifiable, and I have some serious reservations...) My guess is that people will still become physicians, lawyers, nurses, engineers etc. etc. and if air traffic incidents increase, the reason will much more likely be congested skies, rather than short attention spans of young´uns....

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

108 Articles; 9,985 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

I don't think short attention spans are limited to young people. I'm 60ish and I have the attention span of a goldfish. (Which is one of the reasons I'm not working anymore.) I think it has a lot to do with the technology that brings us all kinds of information at lightning speed, and people of all ages use technology.

Specializes in ICU and Dialysis.

The youngest adult generation will ALWAYS be an easy generation to criticize. When Gen Z hits their thirties, you will be hearing about how stupid and degenerate Gen Next is. Because people tend to do more stupid and/or things in their 20s! Flagpole sitting, goldfish swallowing, car stuffing. I'm sure the older folks had a lot of snooty things to say about those young people doing those things, and that was all >50 years ago.

Also, I think it's pretty misguided to try and "accept" the newer generation based on such broad generalizations. If I choose some other demographic, make a bunch of claims about them, and talk about them as if they're all the same, well, that would be quite offensive.

Nightnurse2002, DNP, RN

1 Article; 55 Posts

Specializes in Nurse educator,correctional,LTAC,Med/surg Tele.

Sadly enough it is something we need to be concerned with because of these generations uniqueness. Morelostthanfound says something that is very true, when we started years ago we kept our heads down and did our work, there was some discontention at times but it was nothing like the behaviors I have seen and keep seeing. These last two generations are most challenging and I teach the ASN 2nd semester class, WOW what a challenge.

Specializes in ICU.

"Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt." --Attributed to Horace in approximately 20 BC.

Complaining about younger generations is not a new exercise.

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