University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

Compassionate Care Through the Lens of Generational Understanding

Fahad Aziz, MD, FASN; WMJ Editor-in-Chief

WMJ. 2024;123(2):68-69

Download full-text pdf.

The bond between a patient and their clinician is a crucial aspect of effective medical care. It goes beyond just the medical information in patient records and requires a deep understanding and empathy for the person behind the patient. In the world of health care, this understanding is the key to forming a partnership that not only prioritizes top-notch care but also values the human connection.

In previous editorials, I have discussed the essential principles that make up the patient-provider relationship.1-3 Building on that foundation, I want to emphasize the significance of being sensitive to different generations when it comes to establishing meaningful connections with patients. Recognizing the unique preferences, communication styles, and health beliefs of each generation – from the Silent Generation to the Zoomers – is not only a professional courtesy but also a key factor in achieving exceptional patient satisfaction and health outcomes. Let’s take a quick look at the different generations (Figure) and how medical providers can adapt to each one.


The Silent Generation, born during 1928 to 1945, is known for its cautiousness, adherence to tradition, and discipline. Growing up during times of conflict and financial hardship, these patients were taught to be observant but reserved. As a result, they highly value hard work, loyalty, and respect for authority. When it comes to communication, they prefer direct, face-to-face interactions and the formality of written letters. While they have adapted to digital communication, they still prefer traditional methods.4 For clinicians, effectively engaging with this generation means using respectful and personal communication, addressing them by formal titles, and providing detailed and easy-to-understand medical explanations. It is important to be patient, as this group may need more time to process information and make health care decisions. A respectful and authoritative approach can help build trust and rapport with patients from the Silent Generation.


The generation of Baby Boomers, born during 1946 to 1964, grew up during a time of great social change and economic prosperity. They are known for their strong work ethic and independence, and they highly value self-fulfillment. Compared to previous generations, they are more open to change and appreciate clear and direct communication. They enjoy in-depth discussions that allow for their input and questions. While they are comfortable with technology and use email and other digital methods of communication, they also value personal interaction and the reassurance that comes with face-to-face conversations.5 For clinicians, it is important to recognize the Baby Boomers’ desire for collaboration in their health care decisions. It is crucial to offer them detailed information and options, while also showing respect for their experience and knowledge. Maintaining a personal and engaging approach can help foster a collaborative and trusting relationship between patient and doctor.


The generation known as Generation X, born from 1965 through 1980, grew up during a time of new technology and changes in the economy. They are known for being adaptable, independent, and skeptical, with a do-it-yourself mindset shaped by the shift from traditional to digital media. Gen Xers are practical and resourceful, having experienced both economic booms and downturns. In communication, they value honesty and efficiency and are comfortable with both digital and face-to-face interactions.6 When interacting with Gen X patients, clinicians should be ready to give evidence-based explanations and respect these patients’ tendencies to do their own research. Combining a personal touch with the convenience of modern technology – like online health portals – is likely to resonate with this self-sufficient but tech-savvy generation, promoting a cooperative and well-informed health care experience.


Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, are the first generation to grow up with technology at their fingertips. They value a healthy work-life balance, prioritize social responsibility, and are known for their positive outlook and desire for collaborative experiences. When it comes to health care, Millennials expect convenience, quick service, and transparency. They prefer to communicate through digital channels, such as email, text messaging, or online patient portals, and appreciate the ability to access health information and services electronically.7 Health care providers should offer a combination of technology-based solutions and personal engagement to ensure easy access to health resources and maintain open, two-way communication. By recognizing their desire for active involvement in their health decisions, clinicians can build trust with Millennials by involving them in the treatment process and respecting their informed perspectives and research.


Generation Z, typically recognized as those born from 1997 to 2010, is the most internet-fluent generation, having been exposed to advanced technology and social media from a young age. They prioritize individuality, diversity, and inclusivity, and they are known for their entrepreneurial spirit and pragmatic outlook, shaped by growing up during a time of global unrest and economic instability. In terms of communication, Gen Z favors quick and visual methods, such as messaging apps and video content, and expects on-demand access to information.8 For health care providers to effectively connect with Gen Z, it is important to offer a tech-forward approach that respects their digital savvy and preference for self-service options, like online appointment scheduling and telehealth consultations. Clinicians also should recognize Gen Z’s desire for authentic, transparent communication and social consciousness in their health care choices, ensuring engagement strategies are as modern and forward-thinking as they are.

In summary, understanding the differences between generations goes beyond just engaging with patients – it is a journey towards providing compassionate care. By embracing the unique ways each generation communicates, their beliefs, and expectations, health care professionals can break through traditional boundaries in medicine. We don’t just treat illnesses; we care for individuals, each with their own personal stories and backgrounds that shape their approach to health and well-being. As clinicians become more aware of generational sensitivity, we can create a health care system that is not only effective but also deeply empathetic and in tune with the human heart. Let’s continue to listen, learn, and connect across all ages, because it is in the symphony of generational voices that true healing harmony can be found.

  1. Aziz F. Four essential laws of connecting with patients. WMJ. 2023;122(2):86-7.
  2. Aziz F. All clinicians communicate with patients, but too few connect. WMJ. 2022;121(3):172-3.
  3. Aziz F. The power of shared decision-making in medical settings. WMJ. 2023;122(1):5-6.
  4. Wallenfeldt J. Silent Generation. Britannica. Accessed April 14, 2024.
  5. The Investopedia Team. Baby Boomer: Definition, Age Range, Characteristics, and Impact. Investopedia. Updated February 29, 2024. Accessed April 14, 2024.
  6. McKenna A. Generation X: Britannica; 2024. Updated April 6, 2024. Accessed April 14, 2024.
  7. Zelazko A. Millennial. Britannica. Accessed April 14, 2024.
  8. Eldridge A. Generation Z. Britannica. Updated April 29, 2024. Accessed April 14, 2024.
Share WMJ