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ICE Book Review – Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
By: David Epstein

For a while now I’ve believed that we can make medical education more efficient by tailoring the educational content to our learners earlier in their educational trajectory. If only we can pare down useless minutiae, skip rotations without much value, etc, etc. If a great book can make you rethink or change your long-held beliefs, then Range is such a book for me.

The basic tenet of this book is that our cultural infatuation with the “Head Start” mentality-getting learners, musicians, athletes, etc, to focus on their chosen talent earlier misses the important connections that can occur when breath is the focus instead. These connections become even more important when trying to solve “wicked” problems.

Throughout the book, Mr. Epstein lays out the data for breadth. He tackles deliberate practice, why it works in “kind” learning environments but not wicked environments, the importance of learning both “from” experience and “without” experience (using reasoning to connect disparate ideas), “sampling” activities to increase individual range, desirable difficulties in learning, analogical thinking, the downside of grit, and several other topics.

This book has important implications for medical education and even closes with a discussion with Dr. Casadevall, Chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Casadevall founded a program known as R3: Rigor, Responsibility, Reproducibility (A Keynote outlining his thoughts: R3 is an interdisciplinary course that brings philosophy, history, logic, statistics, and more together to help students learn how to “think” outside of their usually, specialized knowledge domain. Achieving his vision will not be easy.

Being a generalist doesn’t come easily but, in a world of increasing complexity and specialization, generalists will be needed to translate ideas between domains. We should take note and consider how we either incorporate generalist practices into our practice or invite generalists to the table in our highly specialized fields.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. For more details on our site disclaimers, please see our ‘About’ page

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