One of my teachers in med school told me why he loves primary care. He said at any time, he can decide he wants to be more expert in something and do it for a while, like managing all of his patients’ thyroid illnesses, rather than referring to endocrinologists. Then when he gets tired of that, he can start referring again and do something else, like nonsurgical orthopaedics. That was over 20 years ago… The complexity of both medical knowledge and practice has expanded exponentially since then, so I wonder if he still thinks this way?
Regardless, I agree. Being a generalist affords me tremendous flexibility and freedom to explore and apply from all fields of medicine. While I could never approach the expertise of my specialist colleagues, I get to (and to a large extent am expected to) learn a little about everything. That breadth of exposure and knowledge makes every workday unique and stimulating. This week, I’m listening to Range by David Epstein, a book that validates everything about my generalist, boundary-spanning life. From the book description:
Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area.
I feel validated about this because I’ve never been especially good at any one thing (except today I’d say I’m an exceptionally good communicator, though that’s a highly subjective and biased self-assessment). I have, however, observed, explored, tried and experienced myriad things, and I have always seen this as an asset. And now a New York Times bestseller affirms it. Yay!
Growing up bilingual and bicultural gave me a huge advantage for living and working in an increasingly diverse global society. Before I started piano, I learned classical Chinese painting in two styles, as well as Chinese folk dancing. I started skiing in elementary school, volleyball in middle school, golf in college, and in my 40s have picked up kettle bells, yoga, and TRX. I learn coaching techniques from being coached. I learn about leadership from reading and interrogating my patients who are leaders, and now actually leading some folks. I interact with information through podcasts, audiobooks, paper books and journals, and online formats. I read New England Journal of Medicine and Harvard Business Review, Annals of Internal Medicine and Fast Company, Journal of the American Medical Association and Psychology Today. I prefer nonfiction, but I recently joined a book club and read my first novel in many years. My music playlist includes Dierks Bently, Camila Cabello, Bruce Hornsby, Shawn Mendes, Miranda Lambert, Sara Bareilles, The Piano Guys, Mamma Mia and The Greatest Showman soundtracks, John Denver, and Pink. I attend conferences focused on clinical medicine as well as communication. I speak to audiences of physicians, business leaders, and designers. I make washi tape cards and moderate Better Angels communication workshops. It’s kind of an eclectic list of activity; please forgive my self-centered navel gazing here.
If you make a similar list for yourself, I bet it will be more diverse than you think. How does this help you, make you better?
Epstein posits that generalists’ advantage lies in their ability and propensity to see deep relational connections between diverse domains, use analogical thinking, and practice ‘active open mindedness.’ He also provides multiple examples of when specialists’ narrow perspective hinders creativity and innovation, and even effective problem solving. Throughout, however, he acknowledges the complementary, yin-yang relationship between focus on the specific and wide-ranging view of the broad. The book just makes my ENFP heart sing.
I honestly believe range makes me better… For no other reason than giving me a life full of new and exciting experiences to write about on a blog.