# What is a specialist?
I was fortunate to have grown up in a place and at a time where certifications may have given social standing, but a specialist had a different meaning. Artisan is the closest term I’d use. The village I grew up in certainly had its fair share of specialists, from their trade: the milkman, the cobbler, the grocer, the bus driver, the umbrella repair-man, the fishmonger, the butcher, the bank clerk, and a slew of other tradespeople. None of those I listed had a certification, yet they practiced their trade in a way that both offered a valuable service, and gave them a livelihood. Some of them were literate, many were not. The only ‘specialists’ I can think of from that time were the 2 GP’s, and the several nurses. I may be wrong about this but I think the nurses didn’t actually have to qualify with an exam, but instead did an apprenticeship with more senior nurses and then were employed at the local hospital. I never got to see or talk to any of the doctors at that hospital.
All that to say, the idea of specialist came into my life much later, & is influenced heavily by the idea of certifications. Credentials is what popped into my mind first. A certificate or badge that ostensibly proves that the holder has undergone what it takes to be called a specialist. Sometimes, it’s the ability to get INTO an organisation (I’ve seen too many of the IIT-ian or Harvard-ian references), regardless of whether they stayed there and completed the course.
I look around me today at professions that need certifications that I think have taken the idea of specialisation too far. There are multiple categories of nursing (registered nurse, AIN, come to mind) allowed to do certain things only. One human caring for another, with empathy, with deep knowledge of several subjects in medicine, healthcare, treatments is not enough. Accountants aren’t just accountants. You are a tax accountant, or an auditor, or a management accountant, or a brand of accountant (CA, CPA, etc). Interest, skills, and even expertise is insufficient to be known as a specialist – you have to prove it with a ‘credential’.
I have more recently also notice several people who don’t particularly care about these credentials. Yet, I’d most certainly consider the specialists for their expertise. Hosting the talks at work, I’ve heard from a cross-section of people who perform a role at work, but reveal incredible insight in an entirely different domain. They do so because it interests them. They have spent countless hours learning about it. Astrophysics. Storytelling. Illustrations. Computer hacking. 3D printing. Few of them chose to get a certificate in their area of interest.
My current definition of a specialist is someone deeply interested in an area, willing to share their knowledge, has the portfolio of work to show, has invested time and effort in their area of interest, and continues to learn more about that area. It does not preclude them from being interested in multiple areas, or at different levels of depth in the subject.