fbpx

Know What You Don’t Know

David Epstein, MD focuses on the idea of knowing what you don't know. If you know what you don't know, you can learn to ask the right questions.

May 20, 2022

“Know what you don’t know” is a common saying that I have used throughout my career, with trainees in medicine.

It seems to be the best piece of advice that I have been given and the most important teaching point that I’ve passed along to others. However, I have only just begun to realize how important the phrase is in all areas of life and not just in medicine.

 

Why is “know what you don’t know” such an important teaching point for everyone?

 

Without understanding the limitation of your knowledge base, you will never know the right questions to ask to learn more. If you don’t learn more, you will not know what your knowledge gaps are and you won’t continue to explore your deficiencies. Your knowledge base will stagnate and not expand. If your knowledge base stagnates and doesn’t expand, your intellectual growth will be stunted…and you won’t even realize it!

 

In medicine, examples of understanding “know what you don’t know” are often reflected in clinical judgment and interactions. We see incorrect diagnoses from not recognizing subtle clinical symptoms or signs on exam, incorrect treatments being given for illnesses that are not well understood, continuing routine management strategies without evolving because “that’s how we’ve always done it”, and many more examples. The common thread is not recognizing the knowledge gaps and not asking the right questions to make corrections.

 

Why are these knowledge gaps ignored or just not recognized?

There may be many reasons, but ignoring or not recognizing knowledge gaps may be due to a lack of curiosity.

 

  • If you are curious, you ask questions.
  • If you ask questions, you find answers.
  • If you find answers, you learn more.
  • If you learn more, you learn what you don’t know.

 

 

It seems to be a cycle that positions you in the direction of investigating what you don’t know and, subsequently, gaining knowledge.

Asking questions and being curious doesn’t mean that you have to learn everything that there is to learn. That would be impossible.

But it does mean that you reach out to sources for the information. This can include educational materials or reaching out to people who know the answers and who know more about the subject in question.

 

Asking questions and being curious doesn’t mean that you have to learn everything that there is to learn. That would be impossible.

 

In medicine, we manage or treat patients based on what we know and feel comfortable with. If we are involved with the care of a patient and we encounter something that we don’t know or feel comfortable with, we investigate by reading or researching information or consulting colleagues who can help us.

We learn by this investigation and interaction.

We learn what we don’t know and fill the knowledge gaps or utilize others to help us with our deficiencies. A physician with inadequate knowledge, who doesn’t know to feel uncomfortable with managing or treating a specific patient, can be quite dangerous to the health of that patient.

 

A physician with inadequate knowledge, who doesn’t know to feel uncomfortable with managing or treating a specific patient, can be quite dangerous to the health of that patient. Click To Tweet

 

What I’ve seen in medicine is also applicable in all areas of life.

 

Learning what we don’t know will protect us from making mistakes with filing our taxes, fixing our car, investing in the stock market, helping our kids with their homework, and any number of other activities that are required for daily living.

“Know what you don’t know” is one of those life lessons that I’ve learned by being taught and by teaching others.

As I’ve matured over time, learned more, and tried to stay curious, I have realized how much I don’t know and how much more I still need to learn.

What is something that you recently learned that made you realize what you don’t know?

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. For more information, or to submit your own opinion, please see our submission guidelines or email opmed@doximity.com. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Find out what we’re looking for here and submit your writing, or send us a pitch.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Of Interest

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

Social Dissections

[SERIES] Social Dissections

Join us in a visual and audio show, where we host light conversations with some of today’s standout healthcare experts.

David Norris, MD, MBA

Negotiate as a Physician and Win

Catch this 8-part series, hosted by physician & business consultant David Norris, MD, MBA & produced by Dana Corriel, MD. Learn to be a stronger negotiator with these important tactics.

Brand Your Social Media Content in a Day

Doctors Exploring Social Media

Raw and real social media-related questions, discussed in a video collection, hosted by Dana Corriel, MD, over a casual – but fun! – virtual setting.

Olga Calof, MD

Olga Calof, MD

My philosophy of care is to personally connect with patients, so we can work together to understand their disease, how it should be treated, and how to modify lifestyle choices to live the best life possible.

Judith Hong, MD

Judith Hong, MD

A board-certified dermatologist who loves and teaches mindful art classes, dance, and Reiki.

Deborah Gutman, MD, MPH

Deborah Gutman, MD, MPH

I coach and mentor pre-health and medical students with a growth mindset for successful applications to medical school and residency.

Want More?

Be a part of our healthcare revolution. Don't miss a thing SoMeDocs publishes!

Disclaimer: SoMeDocs assumes no responsibility for the accuracy, claims, or content of the individual experts' profiles, contributions and courses. Details within posts cannot be verified. This site does not represent medical advice and you should always consult with your private physician before taking on anything you read online. See SoMeDocs' Terms of Use for more information.

follow us

© 2024 SoMeDocs. All Rights Reserved.

Soak up our content & grow

Earn CME

Drop your email address below and we’ll email you the link for earning CME (through CMEfy). Please check your spam folder if you do not receive our email. We’ll also add you to our Sunday newsletter, so you can earn more CME’s reading our content!

Support A Platform that Celebrates Real Doctors

For just $10 a month, you can help keep this openly accessible site available to all & help us sponsor in more doctors.

Interested in subscribing
to our unique content?

Interested in subscribing to our unique content?

I acknowledge that this site is not to be used for medical advice.

Play Video
Our Founder Answers Your BURNING Question

SoMeDocs

“Why should I become a member of SoMeDocs if I already have my own space online?”

Site SoMeDocs Logo, square

WANT TO STAY IN THE LOOP?

DON'T MISS A SINGLE CONTENT PIECE.