Millennials and their Impact on Clinical Research


Applied Clinical Trials

Applied Clinical TrialsApplied Clinical Trials-03-01-2018
Volume 27
Issue 3

The importance of examining this generation’s influence on the clinical trial value chain.

Much has been said about the impact of the so-called Millennial generation-those born since 1980-on the workplace, its value system, and culture. By 2025, millennials will make up the majority of the workforce.1 In response, companies are clamoring to understand how to recruit, motivate, and retain these workers; according to one estimate, the HR consulting market alone is valued at $150 billion annually for the millennials segment.2 On the consumer side, millennials are poised to reshape the economy, as their collective experiences are changing the way products are bought and sold, forcing companies to examine how they do business. According to Goldman Sachs, millennials have an affinity for technology that is reshaping the retail market; with product information, reviews, and price comparisons in hand, millennials are turning to brands that can offer maximum convenience at the lowest cost.3 But what is the current and expected impact of this demographic on clinical research? And, perhaps more importantly, what should we be doing about it?

Recently, many have successfully argued that it is important not to fall into the trap of over-generalizing millennials, and that the generational divide may be overstated and not so wide.2 But for clinical research, the cultural nuances and motivational drivers that make this demographic unique are the very elements that can make or break a clinical research study. As the impact of millennials on society increases, it is critical that we take a hard look at these differences and how they may impact stakeholders in the clinical research value chain, from sponsor companies and investigative sites to patients. Millennials are impacting clinical research as both increasing numbers within the patient pool and as key players in trial planning, administration, and investigation of studies. As with other sectors, millennials are making their mark on clinical research-a mark that many anticipate will change the industry as we know it.

Purpose-driven generation

A recent study, Millennial Mindset: The Collaborative Clinician, reported on the changing expectations of

millennial physicians and how it is impacting patient care. The report explores the changing expectations of clinicians and how they prefer a collaborative approach to nearly all aspects of their practice, with a hyper focus on patient-centricity. For clinical trials, this means that millennial investigators are likely to be even more focused on what matters to patients, not just what is important to the sponsor organization. Forty-four percent of millennial doctors say they most value patient-centricity,5 and with patient-centricity at the forefront, the inherent complexity of clinical trials and the highly-regulated operating environment may be at odds with a patient first mindset. 

Perhaps more importantly, the purpose-driven approach of this generation may offer important clues for how to recruit and retain clinical research participants in the future. Rather than just appealing to the individual benefits of participating in a study, sponsors may also benefit from appealing to the larger societal benefit. A global LinkedIn survey of over 26,000 millennials found that employees who feel like their work creates positive impact are more likely to be fulfilled and stay on the job longer.4

It’s all about the team

Ambitious and team-oriented, millennials prefer a tight-knit, cross-functional working approach that values social interaction.5 Having grown up in an environment that promotes teamwork, most millennials like working in groups and prefer a sense of unity over division and collaboration over competition. What might this mean for clinical research programs? Matthew Howes, executive vice president, Strategy & Growth for PALIO, wrote, “We should expect this generation to tear down walls between sponsors, vendors, and sites involved in clinical programs. Drug development of the future will see research sites and investigators brought in before protocols are developed to create a highly collaborative team environment.”6 Howes also asserts that with millennials, “The days of the cowboy clinician are fading with the sunset.” With it, more interdependent organizational models are emerging as millennial clinicians prefer working in research teams, hospitals, and other cohorts. Open to change and multitasking, they thrive in a dynamic, fast-paced environment. If harnessed effectively, this has the potential to improve the quality of protocols and streamline study execution by facilitating communication between sponsors and research staff. Taken to the other extreme, operating in a collaborative fashion may also carry the risk of slowing down decision-making as compared with more traditional top-down approaches.

Technology is integral, not just an enabler

Millennials have impacted the evolution of technology and are used to instant and mobile communication. As a result, they are often skeptical of legacy entrenched systems that are inefficient, cumbersome, and lacking in transparent communication mechanisms. This has important implications for both research teams as well as patients. 

Online patient communities such as PatientsLikeMe, as well as patient advocacy groups, offer hubs that sponsors are increasingly utilizing for patient recruitment purposes.7 Other platforms such as and Yelp also post reviews of facilities that conduct clinical trials, allowing participants to be more informed about what to expect. 

For clinical study teams, using technology to enable real-time collaboration across sites, sponsors, and contract research organizations (CROs) will only increase in importance as the millennial workforce grows. No longer willing to muddle through business processes with outdated platforms that rely on email communications and Excel, we can expect these workers to drive the industry further toward cloud-based technologies that promote real-time data access and collaborative workflows.  

Turning the corner

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 14th Annual Global CEO Survey on global talent concluded that, “Irrespective of the long-term aims and ambitions of an individual company, the ability to attract and retain millennial talent will be a vital step to achieving it.”8 The same can be said for millennial patients (and to a lesser extent practitioners) in clinical research. It is only when we leverage new ways to engage with these purpose-driven patients that clinical research will evolve to the next level. Beyond patient engagement, sites, sponsors, and CROs will increasingly find that embracing technologies that promote cross-organizational collaboration in real-time is no longer optional but expected and necessary. 

As digital pros at ease with social media, millennials will push study teams to find faster and more transparent ways of working with patients. Being a click or tap away from investigators, study staff, and patients will become the norm.





Craig Morgan is Head of Marketing, goBalto; email: 




1. Hyder, Shama. Study Reveals Surprising Facts About Millennials In The Workplace. Dec. 5, 2013. Available at:

2. Pfau, Bruce. What Do Millennials Really Want at Work? The Same Things the Rest of Us Do. Harvard Business Review. April 7, 2016. Available at:

3. Millennials: Coming of Age (Infographic). Accessed in April 2017 at:

4. Vesty, Lauren. Millennials want purpose over paychecks. So why can’t we find it at work? The Guardian. Sept. 14, 2016. Available at: 

5. Young, Charlie. 5 reasons you want millennials on your team. Available at:

6. Howes, Matthew. Marginalization of millennials: Changing the clinical research landscape. CenterWatch. June 6, 2016. Available at:   

7. Banks, Linda. Using social media for clinical trial recruitment. PharmaPhorum. Jan. 12, 2016. Available at: 

8. Growth reimagined: Prospects in emerging markets drive CEO confidence. PwC 14th Annual Global CEO Survey Report. Available at: 


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