HealthOctober 09, 2023

Understand Gen Z attributes to improve nursing education

Gen Zers have never known life without the internet. Here's what that means for nursing educators and why they need to adopt active teaching methods.

Because every generation is unique, nurse educators are continuously challenged to adapt their teaching styles and methods to better prepare future nurses for practice. This is particularly true with members of the newest Gen Z generation, born between 1996 and the early-mid 2000s. In the U.S., there are approximately 90 million Gen Zers, who are digital natives, having never known a time prior to the internet.

In this video, Lisa Bonsall, Senior Clinical Editor for Lippincott® Nursing Center®, interviews Vicki Moran, PhD, RN, MPH, CNE, CDE, PHNA-BC, TNS, who is a nurse education research manager at Wolters Kluwer. Moran covers what it takes to capture and hold the attention of Gen Z nursing students. A nurse educator for more than 25 years, she also recently presented on preparing Gen Z nurses for practice at the Lippincott® Nursing Innovation Education Summit, held earlier this year.

Starting off the conversation, Bonsall asked Moran to characterize typical attributes of Gen Z nursing students who are preparing to enter practice. Clarifying that “not everyone fits into Gen Z,” Moran first urged educators to recognize outliers. However, in general, she characterized Gen Z as “active, tech-savvy, used to getting quick answers,” and entirely comfortable with “challenging educators based on what they've found on the internet.”

While “very active in their voice and wanting to learn,” she added that “they do lack some of the skills to navigate the classroom in a general sense.” Because they can readily find most answers via an online search, Moran noted that Gen Zers are less likely to “dumpster dive, like some of us older folks are.” Whereas previous generations may have been comfortable getting “deep down into a rabbit hole, Gen Z students don't want to do that,” she added.

At her Summit presentation, Moran said some of the Gen Z attributes stem from instant gratification derived from quick access to information via online searches, which can make them seem a bit more demanding than other generations. She also noted that they have a disdain for disorganization, want clear-cut objectives, and are inclined toward activism, publicly posting their dissatisfactions via social media.

To avoid a negative impact, she cautioned that educators may need to set boundaries upfront, especially as it relates to expecting instant responses on emails, grades, and other considerations.

Also discussed at the Summit was the inherently cautious nature of Gen Zers, often making them reluctant to engage in class. Moran noted that they can be very pragmatic, wanting to deal with situations based on what they've experienced. In this sense, she said they may “need a lot of reinforcement,” as they are not used to critically thinking through situations. This and other pressures, such as unrealistically comparing themselves with others, can make Gen Zers anxious and at higher risk for depression and isolation. Fortunately, providing greater reassurance and acknowledgment can help to alleviate much of their fear and anxiety.

Because Gen Zers are exposed to a greater number of cultures and have never experienced segregation, Moran added that they have a healthy respect for diversity. “They are very tolerant and respectful of differences,” she explained, which will serve them well when interacting with patients of varied backgrounds and ethnicities.

Wrapping up the video interview, Bonsall asked Moran, “How can faculty change their mindset to better educate Gen Z nursing students? Are there specific learning strategies?” Perhaps the biggest consideration Moran stressed is “being aware of the technology Gen Zers have been exposed to during their short time on the planet.” As it relates to didactic learning, she encouraged educators to shift away from a lecture-oriented approach to the use of games and other active learning methods.

“On average, a student that is from the Gen Z era is on their phone nine hours each day,” she explained. “Make sure you are innovatively using some of this technology in the classroom setting.” Along with gaming, this can include integrating things like vSIM® for Nursing case studies and other novel technologies such as vrClinicals for Nursing, which uses virtual reality to challenge students in multiple patient care scenarios.

Given that nursing ultimately requires interaction with live patients, Moran also encouraged educators to focus on building social and communication skills. Because Gen Zers spend so much time interacting with technology versus live interactions, she said they can “lack the ability to engage in conversational small talk,” something that is important to establish a rapport with patients. “We have to teach them those skills,” she added.

Using question-and-answer games accessed on cell phones is one approach, whether through Kahoot or other platforms, especially assigning students into teams to promote friendly competition. “This is a great way for them to learn,” Moran noted.

Although adding these types of changes may seem overwhelming at first, Moran emphasized that they can be introduced incrementally to see how well they resonate with Gen Z nursing students. “I want to stress that you don't have to change your entire course,” she concluded. “Change one thing at a time and see how your students perform.”

Watch the Nursing Center Video to learn more.

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