In a world where being exceptional in your field of work is almost always required, the highest-risk careers are being forced to narrow their studies. Specialization —the idea of focusing on a small part of a much broader area of expertise— is taking over the medical field.
Instead of orthopedic surgeons who are proficient in hip replacements, knee replacements, hand surgery and foot surgery, we are seeing the emergence of specific orthopedic practices such as hand surgery, back and neck surgery and foot and ankle surgery. The ability to specialize in a distinct focus of medicine has changed the world for the better. Surgeries that were once extremely rare, with substantially higher mortality rates than average surgeries, have been studied and given the attention necessary for even the highest-risk procedure to become something of a monotonous routine. This monotony is a groundbreaking success. In medicine, boredom is safe and chaos is inherently dangerous.
While specialization is a great advancement in the world of medicine, taking it too far could be severely detrimental to intellectual diversity in healthcare. In an August 2019 article titled, “How to Fix the Premedical Curriculum—Another Try,” Dr. Lewis Thomas proposed that, “applicants to medical school who were traditional premed science majors be considered last, if at all, for admission.” Thomas continued, “Preference should be given to students who concentrated on some central, core discipline, universal within the curricula of all the colleges, which could be used for evaluating the free range of a student’s mind, his tenacity and resolve, and his innate capacity for the understanding of human beings and his affection for the human condition.” Thomas has said in other articles that he is in favor of returning the study of the classical Greek language to the “centerpiece” of undergraduate education. While I don’t believe that requiring classic Greek is necessary to a medical education, the idea of intellectually diverse medical practitioners should be promoted.
Medicine is more than just a career. A field of study built on promoting the health and safety of our most valuable resource —life— will always be more than just a job. That being said, medicine is unique in that we, as humans, train and study to take care of each other and bear each other's burdens in holistic, emotional and physical ways. In a March 2020 article titled, “How a humanities background could make you a better medical student,” John D. Schriner, Ph.D., the Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said, “There’s value with folks coming from a different academic pathway, they come into medical school with different perspective and life experiences. It really gives students an opportunity to assess the human condition through a different lens, and to realize that folks are more than just the symptoms they present. Having that perspective that is a little broader can help students assess the bigger picture of where their patients are coming from.” Although it seems like the obvious choice, choosing pre-med as your undergraduate major may prevent you from gaining valuable, diverse knowledge prior to attending medical school.
Furthermore, in a December 2018 St. George Universityblog titled, “Medical Practice,” the author wrote, “Diversity in health care goes far beyond a language barrier. It’s about understanding the mindset of a patient within a larger context of culture, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and socioeconomic realities. The more diverse the people are who provide medical care, the better they can respectfully and knowledgeably assist their patients.” In order to connect with their patients and to provide the best care possible, physicians must be diverse in their academic backgrounds.