What makes one an expert? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an expert is someone with comprehensive and authoritative knowledge. But, just how does one draw that line and identify a true expert? After all, there is room for some subjectivity in that definition, which is relative and dependent on debatable standards. There is an old joke about how to know if someone you meet is a pilot and the answer is…don't worry, they will tell you. Likewise, searching the Internet for experts is easy because most experts are glad to announce themselves. LinkedIn is brimming with all sorts of possible endorsements for amazing talent and expertise in skills like snacking, small talk, water drinking, and counting, just to name a few. It seems that the opportunity to shine in the spotlight is relatively easy to attain these days. That said, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what it means to be an expert in our community of clinical providers, educators, and biomedical researchers. How do we set the bar?
THE CLINICAL EXPERT
What should the portrait of an expert clinician look like? Expert clinicians would possess impeccable technical skills and an excellent grasp of knowledge related to the diagnosis and management of ocular and systemic disease. The clinical expert would also have an understanding of visual and perceptual disorders, their diagnosis, and treatment. Experts would be knowledgeable of evidence-based standards and would judiciously apply them to patients in their care. Clinical experts would demonstrate excellence not only in the application of their current knowledge, but would also purse advanced competency standards (e.g., academy fellowship or diplomate status). However, the most distinguishing mark of expertise is the contribution to new knowledge through the identification of open questions, study, critical thought, and ultimately, through dissemination of their work in the peer-reviewed literature. Review and acceptance of that work by fellow experts in the community are how expertise is defined. True experts in clinical practice advance the field and distinguish themselves by doing what most others will not do—publish peer-reviewed articles.
Some aspiring expert educators list the number of podium presentations they have delivered and their expert credentials, but that is hardly a guarantee of expertise. Teaching is a solemn responsibility that normally requires intentional investments in specific skills and personal development beyond subject matter expertise. Expert teachers can inspire curiosity and a sense of trust from others. They can also encourage learners to take on unfamiliar challenges and trade the comfort of their current situation for the challenges and the chance to grow. Knowledge is also not static. The doubling time of new information is now less than 9 years. New classes of drugs are discovered. New imaging technologies are implemented. New clinical practices are defined. Maintaining a current and comprehensive grasp of knowledge within a field requires considerable effort and frequent study. When a talented communicator also possesses comprehensive and authoritative knowledge, he/she might rightly be recognized as an expert educator. Nevertheless, we should be wary of ipsedixitisms from those who enjoy the power of the podium, but who do not fully accept their responsibility as an educator and neither possess comprehensive knowledge nor pursue personal development worthy of the expert's title and reputation. Educators at the top of their field not only disseminate knowledge through teaching, but also contribute to sharing best practices and advancing standards and expectations. Peer-reviewed publications that contribute to the knowledge base of educational practice are a high bar that experts should aspire to meet. Optometric Education is a peer-reviewed journal published by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry created for this very purpose. Experts in education publish.
THE IMPORTANCE OF AUTHORSHIP
Whether one is pursuing expertise in clinical practice, teaching, or research, the unequivocal bar that defines expertise is one's contribution to new knowledge that advances the field. Moreover, it is the recognition by fellow peers and expert reviewers that sets the standard for meaningful contributions that help define the expert. When two prospective experts are compared and one has authored peer-reviewed articles, the author will stand out. Students who are striving to establish their reputation, teachers who are trying to advance their discipline, clinicians who are improving patient care, and researchers pursuing novel discoveries are each cultivating growth and development of their fields when they pursue peer-reviewed publications. As a community, we should endorse this goal and look for opportunities to promote real expertise.
Michael D. Twa
Editor in Chief