On Being An “Expert”

I’ve come to appreciate the paradox of medicine – the more one knows, the more one realizes how much is unknown about pathophysiology and the homeostatic mechanisms that govern our physiology. Over the years, people have sought my “expert opinion” on various topics ranging from perioperative and critical care medicine to applications of ultrasound and different procedural skills. This always makes me feel a little uneasy.

An expert is defined as “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.” With the paradox above in mind, it’s hard to consider myself an expert in anything with so much variability in my fields of practice.

As medicine is genuinely an imperfect and dynamic science, I rely on the collective wisdom of my colleagues and the expertise of multidisciplinary teams coupled with my medical training to assimilate the best diagnoses and treatment plans in the context of a patient’s unique clinical considerations.

Despite that, what I know is vastly outstripped by what I don’t know. As a physician, having the autonomy and responsibility of making important decisions requires significant intellectual humility and the realization that, yes, I’ll have to accept the consequences of being wrong from time to time.

Does this make me an expert? I don’t know… but the mindset certainly drives a desire to learn more from the literature and my colleagues’ collective wisdom. At the end of the day, an “expert” in medicine acknowledges their limitations, commits to decisions, balances confidence with intellectual humility, and seeks the help of others at the appropriate times.

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