Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | January 30, 2012

On Knowing Everything

“Doctors* don’t know everything!”

Hard to argue with that statement. I mean, no one knows everything, almost by definition. Somehow, though, when spoken by a patient armed with reams of printouts from the internet, them thar’s fightin’ words.

Here’s the catch: not knowing everything is not the same as not knowing anything. Whatever shortcomings in medical knowledge, education, skills, or experience, doctors (who may not know everything) are still pretty sure to know more than non-doctors about medical matters.

Doctors, by and large, are usually smart people. Nevertheless, it’s amazing to me how readily too many doctors will expound on virtually any subject as if their expertise in one area, medicine, somehow confers magical blanket knowledge of “everything”. They may be smart, but people who do this are fools. (They are also often the ones taken in by the flawed rationale behind “alternative” medicine.)

I happen to be a pretty smart person. In addition to my knowledge and experience in medicine, primary care, and running a solo practice, I’m also a trained musician and a published author. I know quite a bit about some sports, having watched my fair share of baseball and Ultimate Frisbee games. I’m no stock market expert, but I know the basics of finance. I’ve never said I know “everything”, and I take care not to present myself to my patients (or anyone else, for that matter) as if I do.

But when someone is looking to discredit me (often while trying to sell something) with the unassailably true statement, “Doctors don’t know everything,” I find myself supplying the correct conclusion: “But we know much more than non-doctors.”


*Substituting “Scientists”, “Parents”, or “Agents” changes the overall meaning not a whit.



  1. Neither does a yahoo with an internet connection, but don’t tell THEM that/

  2. I must also add that patients know more than most MD’s give them credit for….

  3. I’m a nurse. I frame it to clients in their homes that I know a lot about a lot of different stuff (30 yrs experience) but YOU are the expert on YOU, so if we share information maybe we can find some things that we could do that will make daily life easier for you……
    for chronically ill/disabled elders in their homes
    I take the same tack with my PCP, tho subdued – that I know more about my own experiences and when I ask questions I am trying to piece together HIS knowledge and plan with my MY daily experience, so that I can understand his recommendations well enough to follow them and then evaluate efficacy, etc. He likes to teach, so it works well enuf.

  4. As a chronically ill patient with an illness that the medical community still have few answers for, many doctors get guarded and react negatively when faced with being forced to acknowledge that they don’t know something. My own GP takes the same approach as yourself, openly acknowledging that he doesn’t know everything. I find this approach makes me much more comfortable, than when faced with a doctor who’s ego is dented, resulting in projecting this fear on the already sick patient.

    I value your approach!

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