How today’s students could shape the future of the healthcare workforce
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting students? And what will be the effects in the end when they enter the labor market? University professors, including psychologists, are concerned.
Suzanne Chong is a psychologist at Ursinus College and founder of Clarity and Insight Counseling Services. Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she uses her knowledge of immigration in her professional work with culturally informed practices that emphasize health equity and respect for individual identities.
In this interview, which has been edited for clarity and brevity, she talks about what’s in store for the workforce with a focus on medical students and medical students today.
They go through a lot, let’s put it that way. They are living alone for the first time. For many of them who move away from home, they navigate a whole new social climate. Some of them are going to be in schools where they don’t know many people. You know, there are pros and cons whether you are on a large campus or a small campus. But anyway, it’s that experience of leaving home.
There is certainly this greater awareness of their responsibility and the financial burden of entering college. The cost of tuition and living expenses has skyrocketed and exploded over the years. And that does not match the earnings and incomes of many families. In the past, you could work a summer job and then pay the tuition for the next two semesters. And you could go back to your summer job and take on a part-time job while browsing and juggling college. It’s not the same. It is simply not possible. And that seems to stress the students.
[RL: For medical students, the situation is daunting. 80% carry an average debt of more than $200,000 at medical school graduation. For many medical students, it takes more than a decade to pay off this debt.]
First of all, adolescence and early adulthood are the times when people start to forge an identity. And we learn who we are greatly through our relationships with others. In today’s world, entering into relationships is through social media. There is a tendency to just meet people online, or through the screen or not to meet in person but by text. And we are certainly seeing a change where students are taking less risk in their social relationships.
The culture of actually being there and doing things is slowly fading away because of phones and technology. And I think, in some ways, it could really dampen the spontaneity of forming social relationships, like just hanging out or being together in person.
that’s a big question. Due to the delay in forming social relationships due to social media, I wonder if it is now the role of schools to incorporate lessons, such as: How do we talk to people? What are the guidelines of social etiquette? Sometimes we see emails and texts from younger generations and it strikes us as follows: is there anything missing in their use of language, grammar, appropriate level of formality and professionalism?
I think how much we as adults are able to appreciate the change that is happening, to step in and work with our students in such a way that they can hear us. I wonder, will we be more flexible in how we approach our next generation?
Yes, I think so. It emerged, for example, with new words and phrases and an ever-changing language. I think it’s fascinating and I learn so much from them: the words we use and how it could be so fluid to talk with peers.
However, if you are a future employer and you are not part of that culture, it is quite possible that people will feel that new hires are not able to communicate. And what do we do with it? Do we just insist that students adapt to the way we speak and / or do we adapt to them and their language?
I hope what the students saw – in terms of the inequities exhibited in our society – will ignite generations of grassroots activism. These are students who are ready to go out and say, No, we don’t accept that.
In the short term, there is a sense of loss, a collective sense of loss and grief that we haven’t really addressed yet. You know, a lot of milestones that our students assume is going to have been taken and it was out of their control. What also concerns me is that we are going to see an increasing prevalence of mental health diagnoses like PTSD and depressive disorders.
For the students, the whole period is terrifying, out of control and as if there is nothing we can do about it. There are things we can do. But a pandemic makes us feel that life is very fleeting and fragile, and therefore hopeless. And that’s not what we want.
There is certainly a feeling of mistrust. I would say that is the root of it. Can we trust the information we get? Can we trust that the company or those in charge are watching over us?
It might also be a bit early to tell as we are welcoming a new class this fall. If I had to predict and speculate, I think there is a feeling of mistrust, of distrust of the adults in charge, that they can trust the information they get. So there is also this fear that they will feel that they are superfluous and disposable, and, again, that they are somehow left behind by maybe the mistakes of society.
Students want to see employers who are more transparent, employers who can actually talk about how they take care of their employees. College-aged students may want to know if there have been any allegations of misconduct and how these are handled.
How do employers react when employees express their dissatisfaction with the current work situation? Are these situations swept under the rug? Or do they take it seriously? What is the company doing about global issues? What are their values? And do the behaviors and actions of the company and employees match the values they say they follow?
I mean to employers that while you are interviewing potential employees, have a collaborative interview. Be open about your employee’s background to learn about their background and background.
College students can be a bit unfiltered. Be prepared to take on the role of: Where can I offer feedback? Can I contextualize what is going on? For my part, as an employee of a higher education institution, I wish I could work more with students to prepare them for the world, whatever it is, while getting to know them better.
Resa E. Lewiss is an emergency physician at Thomas Jefferson University and professor of emergency medicine and radiology, and host of Visible Voices, a podcast dedicated to health care equity and current trends.
The Future of Work is produced with support from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of project donors.