1. Williams, Cheryl A. PhD, MS, RN, CNE, NP-C

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Just as we were adjusting to teaching Millennial students, enter Generation Z (Gen Z). This editorial explores how Gen Z nursing students will be radically different from past generations and why nurse educators should take note.


Gen Zers refers to individuals born after 1990. Gen Z is the largest population ever, with 72.8 million globally and 25% in the United States alone.1 Gen Z will be the last generation in the United States to witness Caucasians as the majority. They value diversity, and many are biracial.2 Gen Zers have the strong Baby Boomer work ethic and are more optimistic about their future than other generations.2 "Baby Boomers changed politics, Gen X changed family, Gen Y changed work, and Gen Z will change education,"3 including nursing.


Little is known about Gen Z nursing students. A review of the literature from 2015 to 2108 yielded a short list of 4 articles with keywords nursing and Generation Z. An examination of the articles' references yielded a few more from marketing research. Only 4 were germane to nursing. A word of caution. The use of generational frameworks as a lens to anticipate unique learning needs is not new. While Gen Zers may share certain identities, values, and beliefs, individual differences need to be validated. Like a taxonomy, generational frameworks are a lens and not a label.


Generation Z: Exemplar

To teach Gen Z students, it is important to examine the sociocultural influences that shaped their worldview. Meet Susan, our 23-year-old prototypical Gen Z nursing student. In 1995, both the internet and Susan were born. Susan has seen an African American president and almost a female president. She witnessed the evolution of the smartphone and almost invisible Nano chips heralding lighter laptops essential for life. Susan is aware of automation replacing jobs, cyberbullying, online privacy violations, and widespread computer hacking. She also witnessed some of the most tragic and defining events of our lifetime: a diminishing middle class, global recession, decline of financial fidelity, school debt accumulation, global immigration, school violence, racism, bullying, almost constant wars, and 9/11. These influences have made Gen Zers more persistent, cautious, pragmatic, resourceful, and frugal than past generations. These experiences impact how they learn and how nurse educators need to teach.


Generation Z and Nursing Education

How many Gen Zers will enter nursing is uncertain. Much Gen Z research is marketing data1 because they comprise 40% of the consumer sector; research about career choices is still emerging. Given their characteristic strong work ethic, cautious nature, self-fulfillment over salary (altruism), and job stability, there is reason to suspect Gen Z students may pursue nursing.4 Early recruitment in middle and high school will be critical because many do not attend college until their career choice has been made.5


One in 2 Gen Z students will be university educated, much higher than previous generations.1 These students are aware of their parents' college debt and are fearful of rising tuition.2,5 The majority (72%) of Gen Z college students believe they should be able to design their course of study.2,5 Nursing faculty may need to be flexible with course and curriculum planning.


Because many nursing faculty are older and more likely to be Baby Boomers, generational differences in nursing education will be apparent, particularly as they relate to the use of technology. Baby Boomers trail prior generations on technology adoption,6 and nursing faculty are no exception. Gen Z students have been called technology savants, constantly adapting to new technology and expecting their teachers to do the same. This could potentially be a problem if nursing faculty have not yet embraced technology in the classroom or nursing school administrators have not updated and offered faculty development about learning technology.


Most Gen Zers (92%) are concerned about the generational gap in technology and their education.2 They expect technology, not books. While a decline in reading has persisted across all generations, Gen Zers report reading no more than 30 minutes a day5 and prefer storytelling to reading a book.7 Therefore, teachers should embrace technology and be passionate to share stories to keep students engaged.


Keeping Gen Z students engaged will be a feat for nursing faculty. Gen Z students' attention spans are an astonishing 8 seconds, 4 seconds less than Millennials.5 Gen Zers learn by observation and practice.2,5 They do not want lecture and prefer doing over memorizing.2 Gen Zers learn by solving real-world problems. Faculty need to provide a multiplicity of innovative teaching methods across various platforms to keep them engaged.


Communication with Gen Z students may also be different. Gen Z students do not engage in long conversations, communicating instead in short bits and pieces. Email is for their parents. Their preferred communication method is texting, Twitter, and Snapchat. Gen Z students want to collaborate often, thinking independently at first and then discussing as a group. If they have questions, they will find the answers on YouTube and move on.8 The Table, Supplemental Digital Content 1,, provides some tips for teaching Gen Z nursing students.


Schools of nursing will need to provide increased technology resources and faculty development for nurse educators to meet Gen Z students' demands. Gen Zers' strong work ethic, cautious nature, and need to "change the world" make them poised to become 21st-century nurses.




1. Meet Gen Z: Forget everything you learned about Millennials. Available at Published June 17, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2018. [Context Link]


2. Stillman D, Stillman J. Gen Z Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace. New York, NY: Harper Collins; 2017: [Kindle Edition]. [Context Link]


3. Trunk P. Generation Z will revolutionize education. 2011; Available at Accessed September 29, 2018. [Context Link]


4. Barley S. Here Is What Marketers Need to Know About Generation Z. 2016. Available at: Accessed September 29, 2018. [Context Link]


5. Seemiller C, Grace M. Generation Z: educating and engaging the next generation of students. About Campus. 2017;22(3):21-26. [Context Link]


6. Jiang J. Millennials stand out for their technology use, but older generations also embrace digital life. Pew Research Center. 2018. Available at Accessed September 29, 2018. [Context Link]


7. Shatto B, Erwin K. Moving on from Millennial: preparing for Generation Z. J Cont Educ Nurs. 2016;47(6):253-254. [Context Link]


8. Chicca J, Shellenbarger T. Connecting with Generation Z: approaches in nursing education. Teach Learn Nurs. 2018;13(3):180-184. [Context Link]