I have just finalized my lecture on leadership and career management for the Health Management and Policy graduate students at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.  I enjoy speaking to students because it allows me a chance to stay connected with emerging trends and a robust source for new ideas.  In other words, I learn as much from them as, hopefully, they learn from me.

One very positive trend is that this generation — the Millennials — seems less focused on consumption than their elders.  That is a good thing since they are the generation that must deal with the very serious consequences of more than 40 years of excessive government and consumer spending, much of it financed with mountains of debt. While consumer spending has slowed, the federal government continues to spend more than it takes in.  The national debt as of 1:30 PM GMT on Tuesday, Feb. 15 is $14,097,682,614,097, or $45,471 for each U.S. citizen.  The bad news is that since Feb 28, 2007 the national debt has been increasing by $4.12 billion per day. 

In 2010, 68 percent of our debt was financed by foreign sources.  They are warning us that they are increasingly frustrated with our inability or unwillingness to tackle this debt problem. They’re not wrong. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that people are unwilling to get the help they need to resolve this issue. Even reading something like this Money Talks News article about debt (https://www.moneytalksnews.com/ask-stacy-drowning-debt-what-can/) could be a good place to start if you want to learn the basics about how to get out of debt in the most efficient way. But it just wasn’t happening, and the problem intensifies when it concerns the entire nation. At the current pace, in 10 short years, the interest on the national debt will be $1 trillion a year. Coincidentally, that is equal to the amount of our national debt held by the Chinese government. 

A trillion dollars is a big number. David Cote, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Honeywell and  a member of the President’s bi-partisan deficit reduction commission, has provided us with the best illustration of how stunningly large this number really is. This is a must watch Video. (When you arrive at the page, scroll down to start the video.)

If that explanation doesn’t take your breath away, you are either already dead or just beyond help.

In my youth, my father’s ultimate punishment for not doing well in school or for not following the house rules was to ask for my car keys until he felt I had learned my lesson.  Frankly, I am surprised (shocked) that the Millennials haven’t collectively and figuritively asked us to surrender the car keys.  

What does the debt crisis have to do with my lecture to the graduate students of this great University?  Plenty.  The financial mess that they must clean up means that their lives — and their careers — will be markedly different than those of their parents and grandparents.  For these future healthcare executives, it means that the industry they are preparing to enter today will be substantially different within 10 short years because the current trajectory for federal spending, if not substantially reduced, will create a sovereign debt crisis the likes of which will dwarf the current problems in the Euro zone — Greece, Ireland and Portugal. That will trigger catastrophic consequences for this nation and its expensive healthcare delivery system, most economists agree.

So these students of today will be forced to deal with dramatic change, and more than their fair share of gut-wrenching decisions.  Managing their careers will be more challenging than for any generation over the last 50 years. The rules of personal brand management, job searching, resumes  and interviewing will change. 

The pressures on future leaders to perform — reduce costs and improve quality, safety and service — will be more intense than at any time in our industry’s history. 

To make matters worse for these future hospital executives, many medical schools seem oblivious to the need to immediately change the way they educate the physicians of tomorrow. Without this change the sometimes nasty conflicts between hospitals and physicians that occurred when hospitals converted to the DRG payment system and the physicians did not, will seem like child’s play. But then that is whole other story.

Another positive trend is that my experience/interactions with the Millennials suggests that they are bright, responsible and most are keenly aware of the challenges they face ahead. I am betting they will do what my generation failed to do — make tough choices, act responsibly and deliver safer, better healthcare at a lower cost.

What are your thoughts?


2011 John Gregory Self

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