Expertise, Experience, or Enthusiasm? What really counts?

Can enthusiasm work alone?

I’ve been watching a TV travel series written and presented by Simon Reeve. His work is always powerful, insightful, and human. He also manages to infuse humour and a sense of trepidation in equal measure. What’s his secret? I decided to check out his qualifications. See what he read at University. He doesn’t have an Alma Mater. No qualifications at all. What makes him such a brilliant broadcaster is his infectious enthusiasm. The awards he garners are not rooted in letters after his name but in hard work and love of what he does.

Another such individual is Ruth Goodman. Self-taught social historian on an epic scale. What her hands-on approach can teach us about Tudor cooking or Victorian home management cannot be had between the covers of a book. It’s real dirt under her nails.

Planning a fantasy dinner party? I’d want them both, for their wit, humour, and knowledge would take us way past the port.

What about expertise coupled with enthusiasm?

Individuals with a subject expertise and enthusiasm do not necessarily need experience to thoroughly engage others while explaining their book-gained knowledge. Here historians Lucy Worsley and Simon Schama come to mind. I have been extremely fortunate in seeing them both at the Hay Literary and Arts Festival and theirs are masterclasses in presentation. From the same mould, naturalist Chris Packham, enthused his way on The Wild Show in the 80s captivating audiences with his encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife. From their first appearances, newbies on the small screen, they were able to draw you into their world.

Expertise and experience?

As a dinner guest? Probably not. Of course I’d want them at the controls in the cockpit of a plane, or wielding the scalpel in an operating theatre, or conducting a symphony. I certainly wouldn’t expect any engagement above the job in hand.

Is there ever a time when all three are vital?

A resounding yes. Mental health. General Practice. Anything that affects our emotional well-being, our cognitive development, us as individuals.

The best three psychiatrists I ever worked with were trained in South Africa. I asked one of them why their training seemed so balanced, so superior. At that time I’d been treated by well over a dozen and had experienced major shortcomings. He told me that in Britain a greater emphasis was put on theory and knowledge; in South Africa good personal interaction was considered more crucial to sound clinical practice. He looked at my artwork and read my poems as he felt they gave him a better insight than ward rounds and consultations. Another visited the dormitory and spoke to us informally for much the same reason.

A similar approach is also vital in making exceptional General Practitioners. My current GP is outstanding and I owe him so much. For his knowledge, yes, but more in his willingness to ask and listen, to observe and question, and to give the time necessary to resolve a problem.

All these professionals have a profound ability to create a sense of self-worth in their patients that books and journals can’t teach. Experience may cultivate it, but it is a skill borne of an enthusiasm to improve the lives of fellow humans. As such it is special, and I sincerely wish there was more of it.