In Defense of Being a Generalist

We don’t all need to be experts.

Anna Mercury
4 min readSep 22, 2021
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Cuba has a free medical school. It’s called the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), and by student body, it’s the largest medical school in the world, teaching thousands of students from over 100 countries. Tuition and board are free, and students are trained to become primary care providers. You don’t go to ELAM to become a plastic surgeon or a radiologist. You won’t earn the kinds of paychecks these specialized doctors do, but you also won’t have any debt.

ELAM arose because Cuba understood that having a lot of doctors was good for the public. In Cuba, medicine is a middle-class profession. Most doctors focus on primary care, and also promote basic public health in their communities. The average town, in Cuba or anywhere, does not need a plastic surgeon. Maybe a few per country are useful, but in general, we need medical generalists.

It’s not just medicine, of course. Every industry is replete with hyper-specialized experts who focus entirely on their niche. From academia to most Medium writers, from production to the non-profit industrial complex, we’re encouraged to pick one thing and be the best at it. Ours is a world that rewards focus and depth, not breadth.

The great advent of the Western economic system was the division of labor. Championed by…