What Is Wrong with These Students?

A discussion of teaching Millenials from a Baby Boomer nursing Instructor perspective.


What Is Wrong with These Students?

Have you ever looked out at your student filled classroom to see that half are paying attention? Are they taking notes on their tablets or laptops? Don't be fooled! A close look may reveal facebook scrolling or Amazon-buying. Social media is integral to this generation's community experience.

That realization brings an understanding of their preference for a text message to a face-to-face encounter.

There is nothing wrong with social media. We do enjoy looking at baby pictures of our high school and college friends. And what does our Ex look like now? Day-to-day personal and work routines of banking, ordering goods, and emailing have thrown us right into the middle of the digital age. Our families keep in touch through texting or facetime. And we look everything up online. Times have changed!

Connecting with our millennial students' means, like it or not, we have to get on board with digital communication.

Expanding within the digital environment sets these students apart, as does a lack of confidence. Millennial students who perceive life as stressful rely heavily on their previously hovering parents or guardians to help them navigate life's challenges. As a result, the autonomous nature of the nursing profession and the emphasis on the responsibility of decision-making that can impact lives is difficult for them.

Understanding this is crucial to recognize stress and anxiety which can inhibit learning.

Millennial students are ambitious, optimistic, gravitate towards working in teams, conventional and need to feel important. Expressions of appreciation gain of these students' attention as do small recognitions.

We might have to start giving them a pat on the back for coming to class on time!

Other ways faculty can show they appreciate their millennial students

  • Learn and call them by name (you won't remember them, that's what seating charts are for)
  • Introduce yourself on the first day of class (don't assume they know who you are!)
  • Clearly outline your expectations (these students are very concrete thinkers) - give them specific rubrics and firm due dates
  • Provide a lot of feedback (oral and written)
  • Don't criticize in front of the class (you shouldn't do this with anyone)

Millennials tend towards skepticism. After all, their parents were baby boomers who didn't trust anyone over 30! Review how you present the information. What worked with older generations simply won't work with this crowd.

Nursing faculty must gain student trust, helping them become accountable individuals that collaborate in the learning process.

Tried and true instructional methods for millennials

  • Give them questions and scenarios that relate to the real world as they understand it
  • Have students share their research with classmates
  • Encourage working in small groups to solve problems
  • Make use of available technology (incorporate computer games and resources, like Socrative© in the lesson plan)
  • Ask for their help (Millennials are helpers in the strongest sense of the word)
  • Utilize all types of learning in the classroom (don't shy away from hands-on practice and demonstration)
  • Give nursing students in upper-level courses the opportunity to engage in service-learning

Millennials are diversity sensitive. 21st-century American universities and colleges have greater inclusivity. Depending on where you teach, specific unique cultural or ethnic considerations may need to be incorporated into the classroom. They are adaptable to change so long as it is fair and clearly defined. Tolerant of differences, they may appreciate your personal quirks but they expect you to do the same for them.

Working with a classroom full of Millennials isn't easy. Understanding how they differ from you and your colleagues lends to successfully bringing them to the graduation finish line.


Center for Teaching Innovation (n.d.) The Millennial Generation: Understanding &
Engaging Today's Learners. Retrieved from: https://teaching.cornell.edu/resource/millennial-generation-understanding-engaging-todays-learners

Lynch, M. (2016). Top four ways to engage millennials in learning environments. The
EdAdvocate. Retrieved from: https://www.theedadvocate.org/top-four-ways-to-

PamtheNurse has 25 years of experience as a BSN, MSN and specializes in Simulation.

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FullGlass, BSN, MSN, NP

2 Articles; 1,407 Posts

Specializes in Psychiatric and Mental Health NP (PMHNP). Has 5 years experience.

Good suggestions. But these are applicable to any age group.


38,333 Posts

My class had those who consistently came to class late, talked, slept, or otherwise made noise and disrupted class. Then there were those suckups who monopolized the instructor every chance they got. They would disrupt the class if they had to, in order to get their attention-fix. Nose in media instead of presenting as attentive would only be just another example of variations of behavior that could be termed as lacking in courtesy to others. My examples came from decades ago, long before cell phones, tablets, and computers in class. If there is an opportunity to avoid paying attention, there is a student who is going to take that opportunity. Nothing new.

Has 5 years experience.

Being the oldest in my class was an eye opener. I frequently saw people goofing off or not paying attention. It was just downright rude. With that said, there were some who were there to learn, and ready to be a nurse. I tended to be the one that ended up giving advice to the ones who were about to be kicked out. It worked sometimes, but other times it didn't. I felt like I was older, so I needed to pay attention and do what I came to do. I didn't have years to waste, I needed my degree. Love your article!

PamtheNurse, BSN, MSN

8 Articles; 51 Posts

Specializes in Education. Has 28 years experience.


Thank you! A question: does/did those displaying this behavior, that managed to become a nurse, have a problem as working graduates paying close attention to doctors' orders, lab values, etc?

Your thoughts?

Pam the Nurse

PamtheNurse, BSN, MSN

8 Articles; 51 Posts

Specializes in Education. Has 28 years experience.


I appreciate your observations, certainly, the generation being discussed has their own characteristics, the resulting behavior is similar to those that came before, there is nothing new-under-the -sun. And as Fullglass is pointing out everyone is deserving of Instructor appreciation and respect.

However, concerns regarding these students engaged or not-engaged is their different vision of nursing. Many a student has inquired as to "what it takes to move up to the next level" - bedside nursing for any length of time is NOT what they have in mind for their career. Obtaining the advanced degree to leave bedside nursing behind as quickly as possible is their goal. Questions: 1) How do we encourage students to work for several years to gain experience before signing up for an advanced degree? 2) How to it come about that bedside nursing and advanced nursing degrees are not synonymous? 3) Wouldn’t the same apply as did with the Magnet program the greater the degree at the bedside the greater the likelihood of patient survival? 4) Is this student desire indicative of burnout? 5) I have spoken with students who are CNA's and demonstrating burnout in their current role. If burnout is starting before becoming a nurse, then how does that affect the length of time students are wanting to work at the bedside when they graduate? 6) How does this relate to nursing faculty? These students who are experiencing burnout early will one day be the future nurse educators. If the current nurse faculty are quitting, retiring, and finding different careers, how will this affect the retention of future nurse faculty?

Your thoughts?

Pam the Nurse

Has 5 years experience.
1 hour ago, PamtheNurse said:


Thank you! A question: does/did those displaying this behavior, that managed to become a nurse, have a problem as working graduates paying close attention to doctors' orders, lab values, etc?

Your thoughts?

Pam the Nurse

Well, we lost 8 during 3rd semester. They just were not paying attention. The other few made it, but they had to retake the NCLEX several times. Now they have all switched floors a couple times, and say that it’s too fast paced. I feel like maybe it’s that they don’t have proper knowledge of the critical things you should know.

So yes, I feel like that behavior makes them not as safe. I feel like lots of people apply, thinking it’s a fast way to a good paycheck. That’s not the way to think. You are literally taking someone’s life in your hands daily. You are most welcome, I enjoyed your article.

Daisy Joyce

264 Posts

Still not sure why we other generations have to change to reach them.

They either have the skills to learn, or they’re out.

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.
17 hours ago, PamtheNurse said:

Questions: 1) How do we encourage students to work for several years to gain experience before signing up for an advanced degree?

Pam the Nurse

I think the nursing profession needs to put pressure on the nursing schools to stop accepting so many students into their grad programs -- particularly those students who are applying to advanced practice programs without at least a couple of years of bedside experience. We also need to pressure the schools for graduating so many students who are so unready to face the real world.

We experienced nurses have let things deteriorate by not maintaining high standards. Licenses, certifications, graduate degrees, etc. should all require that high standards be met. If not, the person doesn't get to move forward with their credentials.

The schools are the "gate-keepers." They need to be a big part of the fix to some of the problems being discussed in this thread.

PamtheNurse, BSN, MSN

8 Articles; 51 Posts

Specializes in Education. Has 28 years experience.


Traditionally schools have been the gatekeepers, however, in recent years that role seems to have changed. Financial pressures, chronic shortages of faculty and nurse shortages and more have been the explanations offered by schools.

Is the NCLEX is not enough? What measures could be put in place to identify the unprepared graduate?

What could experienced nurses do to reverse the trend of lowered standards?

Daisy Joyce states that "They either have the skills to learn, or they’re out." Do you agree?

Pam the Nurse

TriciaJ, RN

4,296 Posts

Specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory. Has 42 years experience.

When did nursing school become daycare? Are there not still admission requirements? After they've invested in taking all the prereqs, how can they waste time and opportunity? How about make the expectations clear and if they're not met, they're out. For those who are disruptive and hampering the learning of others: out.

Where did they get the idea that bedside nursing was lowly and they really need to "advance a level"? From their schools, that's where. Now that idea has taken on a life of its own, just like the idea that a degree improves patient survivability. (I read the Aiken study; it has more holes than a slab of Swiss cheese.)

Nothing wrong with degrees and higher degrees. But we're educating ourselves away from the bedside. Who is providing the actual hands-on care? Minimally educated CNAs. And if they're already burned out before they go to nursing school, how on earth are they going to function as nurses? They're not; they expect to educate themselves away from the bedside so they can all be "leaders".

Schools have created monsters. Now they have to figure out how to control them. Good luck. Meanwhile, we still need nurses who can actually nurse. Where are they going to come from?

Has 36 years experience.

Once again with the millennials. You're educating gen Z now. The millennials have kids in middle school already.