Journal of Nursing Education

Major Article 

Generational Clashpoints in Nursing Preceptorship

Vicki Foley, PhD, RN; Florence Myrick, PhD, RN; Olive Yonge, PhD, R Psych


The success of the preceptorship approach to teaching–learning depends on the formation of positive working relationships. Preceptors and nursing students are frequently of different generations and often have differing world-views. A phenomenological study, guided by van Manen’s approach, was conducted to develop an understanding of how generational differences influence the formation of the preceptor–student relationship and the overall success of the experience. Three main themes were revealed: being affirmed, being challenged, and being on a pedagogical journey. A key subtheme of being challenged was colliding generational worldviews; in this article, our purpose is to explore this particular subtheme. The data suggest that generational clashpoints are occurring during preceptorship experiences, and the implications of these are serious, particularly from a nursing recruitment and retention perspective. It is vital that proactive measures be taken to inspire the future generation of nurses, rather than stifling their spirit and assertiveness.

Dr. Foley is Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Dr. Myrick is Professor and Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Nursing, and Dr. Yonge is Professor and Vargo Teaching Chair, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors thank Gloria Smith, research assistant, for her contribution to this article.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Vicki Foley, PhD, RN, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University of Prince Edward Island, 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PEI C1A 4P3, Canada; e-mail:

Received: February 15, 2012
Accepted: May 30, 2012
Posted Online: August 20, 2012


The success of the preceptorship approach to teaching–learning depends on the formation of positive working relationships. Preceptors and nursing students are frequently of different generations and often have differing world-views. A phenomenological study, guided by van Manen’s approach, was conducted to develop an understanding of how generational differences influence the formation of the preceptor–student relationship and the overall success of the experience. Three main themes were revealed: being affirmed, being challenged, and being on a pedagogical journey. A key subtheme of being challenged was colliding generational worldviews; in this article, our purpose is to explore this particular subtheme. The data suggest that generational clashpoints are occurring during preceptorship experiences, and the implications of these are serious, particularly from a nursing recruitment and retention perspective. It is vital that proactive measures be taken to inspire the future generation of nurses, rather than stifling their spirit and assertiveness.

Dr. Foley is Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Dr. Myrick is Professor and Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Nursing, and Dr. Yonge is Professor and Vargo Teaching Chair, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors thank Gloria Smith, research assistant, for her contribution to this article.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Vicki Foley, PhD, RN, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University of Prince Edward Island, 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PEI C1A 4P3, Canada; e-mail:

Received: February 15, 2012
Accepted: May 30, 2012
Posted Online: August 20, 2012

Preceptorship is a widespread approach to clinical teaching–learning in the discipline of nursing. Research demonstrates that it offers a reality-oriented learning context, promotes critical thinking, cultivates practical wisdom, and facilitates competence (Kaviani & Stillwell, 2000; Myrick & Yonge, 2002; Myrick, Yonge, & Billay, 2010). As a pedagogical approach, the success of preceptorship depends on the formation of positive working relationships, most importantly between the student and preceptor. Ostensibly, there can be up to four distinct generations—Veterans, 1922–1945; Baby Boomers, 1945–1960; Generation X, 1960–1980; and the Millennials, 1980–2000—present in today’s nursing clinical practice settings, and each generation brings its own worldview, values, and ideals to the teaching–learning process (Billings & Kowalski, 2004; Howe & Strauss, 2000). Frequently, students are of a different generation than their assigned preceptors.

Within the discipline of nursing, values and expectations are often deeply rooted in the traditions and customs of nursing practice; invariably, as the younger generation brings new ideas to the practice setting, clashes occur between the generations, which can be difficult to resolve (Minnis, 2004). Shifting generational values, particularly in relation to work ethic, has been often described as one of the major sources of friction between the generations (Minnis, 2004). Given this context of generational tension and misunderstanding within nursing clinical practice settings, it follows, then, that developing an understanding about how generational differences influence the formation of the preceptor–student relationship—and, subsequently, the overall success of the preceptorship experience—is an important issue for nursing education. To that end, a phenomenological study was conducted to explore the nature of the preceptorship experience—namely, the lived experience of both preceptors and students, in this intergenerational context. Knowledge generated from this study can help nurse educators, preceptors, and students address the generational tension that may be occurring within preceptorship.

Current State of Knowledge

Several researchers highlighted the importance of the preceptor-student relationship to the overall success of the preceptorship experience (Mamchur & Myrick, 2003; Öhrling & Hallberg, 2000; Ralph, Walker, & Wimmer, 2009; Yonge, 2009). However, limited research on the intergenerational context of the teaching–learning process in higher education has been conducted; in particular, no published studies have been found in the area of preceptorship or field education in the intergenerational context. In the broader context of pedagogy and generational diversity, evidence exists that today’s students possess unique learning styles that are not readily taken into consideration by faculty (George, 2007; Wieck, Prydun, & Walsh, 2002). The literature also describes the generational preferences of students (Mangold, 2007; Walker, 2007), as well as ways to engage adult learners from the different generations (Holyoke & Larson, 2009).

A prevailing generational gap has been reported in professional practice settings; in particular, it is noted that younger nurses and older nurses hold different perceptions of their work environment (Blythe et al., 2008; Keepnews, Brewer, Kovner, & Hyun Shin, 2010; Lavoie-Tremblay et al., 2008; Leiter, Jackson, & Shaughnessy, 2009; Leiter, Price, & Spence Laschinger, 2010; Palese, Pantali, & Saiani, 2006; Santos & Cox, 2000; Stuenkel, Cohen, & de la Cuesta, 2005; Widger et al., 2007). Negative attitudes toward the younger generations are evident in at least two studies (Palese et al., 2006; Santos & Cox, 2000), and high levels of stress are reported by younger professionals (Blythe et al., 2008; Lavoie-Tremblay et al., 2008; Leiter et al., 2010; Widger et al., 2007).

Strategies to attract and motivate the intergenerational work-force are addressed in several theoretical studies (Cadmus, 2006; Cordeniz, 2002; Dunn-Cane, Gonzalez, & Stewart, 1999; Gerke, 2001; Hart, 2006; Hessler & Ritchie, 2006; Kowalski, 2001; Shermont & Krepcio, 2006; Spinks & Moore, 2007; Swearingen & Liberman, 2004; Walker, 2007). Also of interest is the topic of mentoring within an intergenerational context. Researchers report that mentorship is an important factor in professional satisfaction, particularly for younger generations (Halfer, Graf, & Sullivan, 2008; Sherman, 2005; Wieck et al., 2002). Promoting understanding and appreciation of generational differences is vital to decreasing conflict in the work-place, which in turn can lead to increased work satisfaction and higher retention of new employees (Butler & Felts, 2006; Stewart, 2006; Weston, 2001a, 2001b).


This study was guided by van Manen’s (1997) approach to phenomenology. The phenomenon of concern explored was the preceptorship experience within an intergenerational context and the lived experience of both preceptors and nursing students. Van Manen (1997) identified six research activities inherent in his approach to human science research:

(1) turning to the nature of the phenomenon; (2) investigating the experience as we live it rather than as we conceptualize it; (3) reflecting on the essential themes which characterize the phenomenon; (4) describing the phenomenon through the art of writing and rewriting; (5) maintaining a strong and oriented relation to the phenomenon; and (6) balancing the research context by considering parts and whole. (pp. 30-31)

The main research questions that guided this study were:

  • What is it like to precept a student who is of a different generation?
  • What is it like to be precepted by a nurse who is of a different generation?


A purposive sample of seven preceptors and seven nursing students was recruited from an undergraduate nursing program in Eastern Canada. Of the seven nursing students, four were women, three were men, two were Generation X, and five were Millennials. The Millennial students reflected on their experiences with both Generation X and Baby Boomer preceptors, and the Generation X students reflected on their experiences with Baby Boomer preceptors. Of the seven preceptors, six were women, one was a man, and all were Generation X. The preceptors all reflected on their experiences precepting Millennial students. The participants were not matched pairs of preceptors and students. Both groups were informed at the outset that we would not be interviewing any participant with whom they had previously been paired. We had hoped to recruit Baby Boomer preceptors as well; however, none of the Baby Boomer preceptors who were approached responded to the invitation. All of the preceptors had at least 5 years of experience in precepting students. All the student participants were in the final year of their nursing program and reflected on their preceptorship courses taken in both the third and fourth years of the program. To maintain confidentiality and to ensure anonymity, pseudonyms were assigned to each participant. Ethical approval was received from the university research ethics board, as well as the institution in which preceptors were employed.

Data Collection

The preceptor and student narratives were generated during two unstructured interviews with each participant. Some sample interview questions were developed as a guide; however, rather than using these questions in a structured way, they were used as possible prompts for occasions when participants may have had difficulty reflecting or elaborating on their experiences. Some of the typical questions included: What do you like about your generation? What do you wish other generations knew or understood about your generation? How do you perceive other generations? For preceptors: Tell me about your experience precepting students who are of a different generation. For students: Tell me about your experience being precepted by a nurse who is of a different generation. Have you faced any challenges in the preceptorship experience that you believe are related to an intergenerational perspective? Are there any rewarding aspects of the preceptorship experience from an intergenerational perspective? The first interviews ranged from approximately 30 to 60 minutes, whereas the second interviews ranged from 20 to 60 minutes.

At the completion of the first series of interviews, preliminary themes were identified through analysis of the transcripts. Participants were provided with a summary of these preliminary themes, along with specific quotes from the first interviews that were considered to be particularly revealing. The summary of preliminary themes was explored during the second series of interviews. All but two of the participants responded to the request for a second interview. The second series of interviews aimed to confirm or extend the analysis through hermeneutic conversations in which the researcher and the participant reflected on the preliminary themes to interpret their significance in light of the original research question (van Manen, 1997). Recruitment of participants continued until a rich, deep case analysis was achieved.

Data Analysis

We became immersed in the data as a whole by listening to the tapes and extensively reading and rereading the interview transcripts. Selective reading and highlighting led to the identification of statements that were particularly revealing. The thematic analysis was then written using direct quotes from the transcripts as examples that captured meaning and provided a realistic portrayal of the participants’ experiences. The relationships between the themes were also examined to reveal the manner in which they fit together to form the essence of the lived experiences. Van Manen (1997) noted that complex phenomena can be further explored using subsuming themes, as was the case in this study.


Van Manen (1997) posited that the criteria for rigor and rationality in human science research cannot be the same as that of natural science research because a much broader view of rationality is essential. Consequently, he proposed four evaluative criteria for judging the power and convincing validity of a phenomenological human science text: Researchers must ask themselves whether the constructed text is (1) oriented, (2) strong, (3) rich, and (4) deep. In the current study, we took measures to meet each of these criteria and sought to ensure that our text aimed for the strongest possible interpretation of the phenomenon through our awareness of the human lived experience.


From a phenomenological point of view, three main themes formed the structure of the participants’ experiences and can be said to be interrelated and connected in such a way that each one is essential to understanding what the preceptorship experience in the intergenerational context was like for the participants. The main themes included being affirmed, being challenged, and being on a pedagogical journey. Some overlap naturally exists between the themes due to the nature of the lived experience or, as van Manen (1997) explained, “one theme always implicates the meaning dimensions of other themes” (p. 168). Each of the three main themes was inclusive of a number of subsuming themes; in this article, we focus on the theme of being challenged, which relates to participants’ descriptions of situations that were sometimes threatening, provocative, stimulating, or inciting within the intergenerational preceptorship experience. The subthemes of being challenged include colliding generational worldviews, encountering conflict, uncovering tenuous social relationality, and contending with increasing complexity. The purpose of this article is to explore the subtheme colliding generational worldviews in detail.

Colliding Generational Worldviews

The subtheme of colliding generational worldviews is inclusive of differing generational perceptions, as well as misconceptions. Both the students and the preceptors offered descriptions of their own generation and the other generations. The generational clashpoints that exist, to use the language of Lancaster and Stillman (2002), became increasingly apparent in these descriptions. Clashpoints are “those trouble spots where generational conflicts are most likely to explode” (Lancaster & Stillman, p. xxvii). Although there was no evidence of an explosion of conflict per se in the current study, tension was encountered by students. Differences of opinion were voiced, particularly regarding the acrimonious topic of the perceived Millennial work ethic and the task-oriented nature of Generation X. The fact that both generations felt a need to respond to comments by the other in these two key areas also became apparent. In these reflections, participants aimed to debunk the myths about their own generation.

Millennials’ Perceptions of Their Generation. We began the interviews by asking each participant to describe his or her own generation and then reflect on the participant’s impressions of the other generations. Millennial students in this study described their generation as open-minded, outgoing, energetic, tech savvy, ambitious, risky, wanting multiple career options or being career wanderers, and aware of social issues. In particular, students commented on the energy and open-mindedness of their generation as key strengths. For example, Justin stated:

It’s not so cliquish.... I just find that we’re very open minded about a number of different things. Like, I find in clinical it’s easy for people to judge patients based on their history, but I find that our generation…they don’t jump to conclusions as fast. They ask more questions.

Another student described her generation as “risky,” but was careful to clarify her meaning. She stated:

Not the negative type of risky, but like to take on a challenge.... We love to explore things we don’t know about. In nursing school, very early on I learned that I had to jump into things and not wait, go ahead and get it over with and you feel that much better after, so I guess that would be considered risky. (Christina)

The two Generation X students in this study also described themselves as more similar to their Millennial peers than to Generation X nurses. Andrew commented, “I would share more with the younger generation…. You bond on the basis of a lack of experience and on your nursing school experience.” Mark added, “I’d say they [Millennials] are pretty similar to me.”

Generation X Perceptions of Millennials. The Generation X preceptors’ descriptions of Millennials included the following phrases: vibrant, knowledgeable, carefree, lack of work ethic, naïve, immature, over-assertive, not committed to nursing, and task oriented. On the positive side, one of the preceptors, Lisa, referred to today’s students as “vibrant” and noted, “they can offer a lot.” Sharon focused on the tech-savvy ability of Millennials and said that she was impressed with this trait. However, overall, the preceptors in this study suggested that the majority of students are overconfident in their abilities and have an “attitude” that the preceptors found particularly challenging to confront. One preceptor summed it in this way:

A lot have attitude. It’s like, “I know what I’m doing. I learned it and I don’t need any guidance.” Or they feel that they come out and they do something once and “okay, I can go on my own and do that.” Not all…but I find that overconfidence in some...a bit flippant. (Wendy)

Furthermore, most preceptors verbalized that today’s students lack concern for how others view them, lack commitment to the nursing profession, and are disinterested in performing basic nursing care. For example, Colleen stated:

I just think that Generation Y just wants to do their own thing on their own time, and they’re not really concerned about what anyone else thinks about it—or of them…. A lot of that generation [doesn’t] know what they want to do with themselves.

Sharon elaborated in this way:

They have a great knowledge base, but I perceive them as very naïve…very idealistic, and coming into a new profession you want them to be that way…but they’re not as hands on as they used to be. They’re not looking for anything extra. The kids now are more book oriented, more research oriented, they’re more into getting into the offices, and less interested in basic nursing care, less interested in sitting down having a chat with a patient when you’ve got that spare 10 minutes, because they’re over surfing the [Internet], looking up, I don’t know what.

Dave concurred about the lack of commitment of today’s nursing students, but he went further to comment not only on the issue of students desiring administrative positions, but also on what he felt was an even more serious issue—the lack of caring he sees in today’s students. He stated:

I find, the young people coming out today…shocking for me to say this—but I don’t think they have the same caring attitude as the old nurses used to have…. Gone are the days where bedside nursing was the first priority when you came out of school. And now people are coming out and they want a desk job… Monday to Friday, no weekends and no nights. You forget that you got to get in the trenches and work some…. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of the individual, of signs of the times, or just the program that they come through.

Several preceptors offered explanations for why they believed the Millennial generation is so different than their own generation. A few of the preceptors commented on changing parenting styles and the effects of this on today’s students. One preceptor noted, “Everything’s handed to them, so they don’t realize that you have to work to get what you have in life” (Colleen). Another preceptor said, “They’re spoiled from at home” (Patricia) and another added, “We make it very easy for them” (Sharon).

Students related many examples of comments from older nurses along this line, reflecting on “my day” and referring to “when I was a student,” and the pessimism about the younger generation was certainly felt by the students. For example, Christina commented, “Earlier generations tend to think that they had to work a lot harder than we did, things were just handed to us. But I know many people my age who worked just as hard as anyone did in the 40s and 50s and 60s.”

Generation X Perceptions of Their Generation. The perceptions of Generation X about their own generation differed significantly from the Millennial students’ perceptions of Generation X. Preceptors described their own generation as hard working, having good clinical training, forward thinking, knowledgeable about social issues, independent, patient and family centered, and career oriented. Karen stated, “I think our work ethic is probably better than the younger generation.” Dave concurred, “I think our clinical training was far better, and I think I was better prepared as a nurse coming out.” Colleen added, “I would say that my generation is a little bit more independent and more career oriented, as opposed to those coming up behind me.” Patricia stated, “We had a lot more hours for clinical, and I think that’s what shaped us for our work ethic, and then we had the older generation…the Baby Boomers, ahead of us, that kind of shaped us partly into their mold.”

Millennials’ Perceptions of Generation X and Baby Boomers. When students in this study reflected on their experiences working with older nurses (both Baby Boomers and Generation X individuals), their perceptions were that these older nurses are set in their ways, task oriented, often inflexible, and view work as life. On the positive side, they also described older nurses as knowledgeable, confident, personable, hardworking, and available. Mark, a Generation X student, compared Baby Boomers and Millennials and stated, “To me, the older generation seems more stoic and very strictly down to business type of attitude… and the newer generation seem to be friendlier towards the patients.” Sarah suggested that working with younger nurses was more comforting than older nurses in that:

I think that a Millennial nurse might remember a little more what it was like to be a student. And I think that’s ultimately the issue in this, with kind of the older nurses—they don’t remember what it’s like to be student and to not be sure of things 100% of the time. They don’t remember that feeling of paralyzing anxiety.

Christina saw older nurses in a positive light and said that she has been “in awe…of their knowledge and confidence”; however, she agreed with her peers on the subject of older nurses being “set in their ways.” She added:

They don’t want to hear you talk about the new ways. They let you do it your way, because that’s the way you’re trained… but there’s no chance that they’re changing the way they do things.

Ashley commented, “I wish they were more open to change…and maybe sometimes older generations don’t really have the same kind of respect for young people.”

Debunking the Myths

It became apparent during this study, particularly during the second interviews, that both generations felt the need to debunk what they felt were generational myths or stereotypes. The students felt very strongly that the lack of work ethic was a misconception about their generation. Justin stated, “I think that sometimes we get labeled as lazy because we’re more into technology and stuff.” Sarah added:

I think that maybe it’s misunderstood…. I think that they view younger people, and nurses in particular, as kind of flip, and [that we] don’t necessarily take nursing seriously…and I’m sure that I take that seriously, and a lot of my friends take it seriously, and I feel that they’ve had one or two students who haven’t taken it seriously…kind of the rotten apple in the bunch…and maybe they view our excitement and naiveté as being flip or not as diligent.

A Generation X student also agreed with his Millennial peers on the subject of stereotyping related to work ethic. Mark stated, “I don’t know if it’s just a stereotype, or it’s in fact true, because I don’t see it. I see a lot of the new generation working really quite hard, especially on our floor.” One student tried to provide an explanation for where the misconception or stereotype about work ethic originates:

Maybe I’m jumping the gun here, but we talk about “nurses eat their young,” and maybe we’re trying to have a bravado on, kind of a thicker skin. And maybe that comes off as not caring, or not taking it seriously, when maybe we’re just trying to self-protect. (Sarah)

And in terms of addressing the misconceptions, one student stated, “You have to prove them otherwise” (Christina). Kayla noted that she feels the need to address it more directly with the nurses. She said, “The only thing I can think of is to defend yourself without being rude, and say that you can’t speak for everyone when you make those kinds of comments.” The preceptors also felt the need to debunk what they perceived was a myth about their generation being task oriented and inflexible. One preceptor summed it up in this way:

I don’t necessarily agree with how they see us. Like they said that we were set in our ways. I don’t think that we are set in our ways at all. We know what works and we do what works and if that is going to be time efficient…then you do it. They also said that work was our life which I don’t think work is our life at all…. Family is our life but we need to work in order to support our family…and I think we are very flexible whereas they [students] don’t see that. (Colleen)


From the findings of this study, it was evident that the Millennial students view themselves differently than their preceptors, and likewise, the preceptors view themselves differently than the students. Differing generational perceptions between younger nurses and older nurses are well documented in the literature (Blythe et al., 2008; Lavoie-Tremblay et al., 2008; Palese et al., 2006; Santos & Cox, 2000; Stuenkel et al., 2005; Widger et al., 2007). The Millennials’ descriptions of themselves are consistent with the positive characteristics and traits reported by Howe and Strauss (2000) in their text, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. The authors proposed that Millennials are demonstrating a magnitude of positive social habits, and furthermore, that they are more affluent, educated, and ethnically diverse than any other generation in history (Howe & Strauss, 2000).

In examining the preceptors’ (all from Generation X) impressions of the Millennials, it is important to highlight that these were not consistent with the students’ views of themselves. Although some positive traits were identified by the preceptors, they tended to focus more on what they felt were negative traits of the younger generation. Negative attitudes toward younger generations are reported elsewhere (Palese et al., 2006; Santos & Cox, 2000).

The perception of Millennials as not being committed to nursing was a prevailing one among the preceptors. Also ubiquitous was the view that nursing students place little value on basic nursing care, and preceptors reported that it was challenging to motivate them at times. The preceptors seemed to be disillusioned by these factors. In a study by Yonge, Hagler, Cox, and Drefs (2008), 46.5% of preceptors surveyed identified lack of student motivation as a challenge. In addition, Yonge (2009) reported that preceptors consider lack of student motivation to be a major inhibitor to the development of a positive relationship. A higher level of organizational commitment and job satisfaction by older nurses compared with younger nurses is noted in several studies (Blythe et al., 2008; Kovner, Brewer, Cheng, & Djukic, 2007; Mion et al., 2006; Thompson, 2007; Widger et al., 2007; Wilson, Squires, Widger, Cranley, & Tourangeau, 2008).

The preceptors highlighted the influence of parenting styles on the Millennial generation, and along this vein, their views can be said to be consistent with those of Marano (2008). In her thought-provoking and somewhat controversial text, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, Marano (2008) posited that an overinvolved parenting style has led to a generation of fragile young adults who are unable to handle failure. However, Marano acknowledged that:

It’s a mistake to think that today’s college students are really just a bunch of privileged brats who’ve had it way too easy…. The world impinges on these kids in ways generations before never dreamed of and it has from an early age. (p. 159)

An even more cynical representation of the Millennial generation perhaps is that presented by Bauerlein (2008) in his text, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future. Bauerlein argued that despite having access to more information than any previous generation, technology has been used by young Americans mainly for the purpose of social networking rather than intellectual endeavors, and as a result, they “possess little knowledge that makes for an informed citizen” (p. 16).

Taking a different perspective, could it be said that the views of Generation X, as described in the current study, are perhaps suggestive of a perpetual ethos of older generations that things were much harder in their day? Howe and Strauss (2000) suggested that each successive generation has to cope with negative perceptions of older generations and that such pessimism is timeless. Furthermore, Howe and Strauss (2000) asserted:

Every generation derives comfort from its collective memories, that special grab bag of habits, tunes, images, gadgets, and words it calls its own. The older it grows, the more it sees in the rising generation a living reminder that such memories are mortal and must ultimately be paved over by those who don’t share them…such reminders are a natural breeding ground for tensions between young and old…. When youth, affluence, or technology is at issue, adults don’t just get grouchy, they moralize in a jeremiad about laziness and decadence that dates back centuries. (pp. 24-25)

Evident in the preceptors’ descriptions of their own generation was a constant comparing of their own work ethic with that of the younger generation. This finding raises the question as to whether this generational clashpoint can be viewed as an example of binary thinking or, as educational theorist Dewey (1938) referred to it, “the Either-Or philosophy” (p. 30). He stated, “Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites… between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities” (p. 17). Perhaps there is a need to take caution when making generational comparisons to avoid this type of binary thinking wherein one group is right and the other is wrong. Surely some intermediate possibility exists in relation to the subject of work ethic and generations. Lancaster and Stillman (2002) highlighted the intermediate possibility that perhaps neither group is entirely correct. They stated:

It’s still uncommon for younger generations to be considered credible in the workforce…while on the flip side, too many members of the younger generation assume that youth equates with being the most up-to-date, cutting-edge, and in touch. They forget that experience is what gets you up the hill and that not all members of the older generations are over-the-hill. (p. 44)

The stereotype that Millennials have a poor work ethic, as revealed in this study, perhaps derives somewhat from the career-wandering nature of the Millennial generation (Lavoie-Tremblay et al., 2010; Olson, 2009). The students in this study identified that job satisfaction is more important to their generation than job security. The students also voiced the need to move around within nursing to build a better-rounded knowledge base. This finding is corroborated by other researchers. Olson (2009) reported that Millennial novice nurses verbalize the need to move around within nursing to “find my niche” and make a difference as a nurse (p. 13). Lavoie-Tremblay et al. (2010) suggested that Millennial nurses tend to “leave a door open” because they recognize that they may not find what they are looking for with their initial choice of nursing clinical practice area (p. 6). Perhaps the career-wandering nature of Millennials, as well as their desire for further nursing education, is indicative of a true commitment to the nursing profession rather than a lack thereof.


The negative attitudes toward the Millennial generation noted in this study are particularly troublesome; so the question now becomes how can the pessimism be overcome to uncover the positives that seem to “remain hidden behind clouds of elder doubt and suspicion” (Howe & Strauss, 2000, p. 24)? The widespread flood of cynicism about Millennials bears the peril of bona fide damage to their generation (Howe & Strauss, 2000). The implications are serious, and, from a nursing recruitment and retention perspective, proactive measures must be taken to inspire the future generation of nurses rather than stifling their spirit and assertiveness. Generational collisions, such as those identified in this study, must be discussed, understood, and resolved (Lancaster & Stillman, 2002) to create a culture of openness and respect in nursing workplace settings.

We suggest that nurse educators explore the topic of generational diversity with both preceptors and students as part of the preparatory and orientation process. Promoting awareness and insight into generational diversity is an important role for nursing faculty. In our view, nursing faculty have a responsibility to promote successful relationships between preceptors and students by helping to eliminate preconceived ideas, thereby reducing the potential for conflict in the relationship. Emanating from the data in this study is the need for both preceptors and students alike to be open to and aware of generational perceptions or, as Lancaster and Stillman (2002) asserted, to expand the “bandwith of tolerance for one other” (p. 145).

A number of guiding principles for developing successful intergenerational relationships in the workplace have been identified by Raines (2003). Perhaps the most important of these is simply initiating conversations about generations. Raines suggested that when we get people talking about generations, we can identify our expectations, as well as the stereotypes and judgements we often make without realizing it. Raines referred to this as “generational baggage” (p. 44). Other principles include asking people about their needs and preferences, offering options for employees, as opposed to a one-size fits all approach, and building on strengths of each generational group to recognize the inherent potential of mixed-generational teams. As simplistic as it may sound, the common thread running through all of these principles is the concept of mutual respect. As Lancaster and Stillman (2002) asserted, “employees of different generations thrive in cultures where they can be who they are and express themselves, where they are encouraged to learn from one another, not become another” (p. 313). In nursing preceptorship, we suggest that promoting awareness and insight into generational diversity will go a long way toward the development of mutual respect within the preceptor–preceptee relationship.


Exploring the nature of the preceptorship experience in the intergenerational context is both a significant and relevant issue for nursing education and practice. In this phenomenological study, the data revealed three main themes that capture the experiences of the preceptors and nursing students from different generations. Being challenged was one of the main themes, and a key subtheme emanating from this theme was colliding generational worldviews. In this article, we presented the data specific to this subtheme. Overall, the findings of this study are directly relevant for nurse educators, students, and nurses in clinical practice. Knowledge generated from this study has the potential to enhance generational understanding in the pedagogical context and thereby promote a culture of openness and respect for generational differences within clinical practice settings. Limited research relates to the intergenerational context of nursing preceptorship; therefore, we urge nurse researchers to conduct similar studies to build on this foundation to allow for knowledge utilization, transfer, and synthesis.


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