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BJS Bookshelf: Expert: Understanding the Path to Mastery by Roger Kneebone


Authors: Recommendation and Article by Dr Ameera AlHasan, Specialist General and Colorectal Surgeon, Jaber Al-Ahmad Hospital, Kuwait, @A160186
Dr Ameera AlHasan

What do a surgeon, a taxidermist, a tailor and a magician have in common?

The author, Roger Kneebone started his career as a surgeon operating on trauma patients in South Africa before deciding to return to England where he changed paths to become a general practitioner. He is now a professor specialized in surgical education at Imperial College London. In this book, he reflects on his journey to becoming an expert at each stage of his career, comparing and contrasting his own experiences with those of friends and acquaintances who are themselves experts in their fields. He divides the journey to expertise into three main stages namely Apprentice, Journeyman and Master. He then goes on to explain how one navigates these stages by making full use of their senses, deliberately putting in the time to repeat certain (mundane) tasks before going on to develop their own style of work as well as the ability to improvise in unfamiliar situations and finally becoming a master who is able to pass on the craft to their mentees. Professor Kneebone brilliantly demonstrates how, regardless of the craft, the principles remain the same and how there are no shortcuts to mastery. The professions cited in the book including those of surgeon, taxidermist, tailor, magician, hairdresser, pilot, musician, and many others, all share this common journey and all require a diligent and gradual acquisition of skill and good judgment combined with the ability to manage both people and risky situations.

Every surgeon should read this book. It is written by a surgeon, someone who has known and lived the surgical experience first hand, but most importantly, it puts everything into perspective. Younger surgeons sometimes don’t see how having to do repetitive minor tasks adds value to their ultimate goal of becoming a master surgeon, whereas the author explains how “doing time” is inevitable. More experienced surgeons, on the other hand, upon wondering whether they have become masters or not might ask how would they even know when they got there? Professor Kneebone clearly explains how mastery is a journey and not a destination in itself; the learning process never stops but masters are able to innovate and educate.

This book is written in a clear and succinct manner and uses scientific principles deeply rooted in learning theory. The stories are real and relevant whether they come from the author’s own experiences in the operating room or the GP practice or from the colourful lives of the many non-medical experts mentioned in the book. This is an inspiring read that provides a roadmap to becoming a member and eventually a master of any “community of practice”, including surgery.

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