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Dunning-Kruger Effect (No Foolin')

Turn back the clock to when you received that paramedic and/or nursing license. The feeling of personal accomplishment after completing all of your academic studies is likely one of the highlights of your professional life. You were on top of the world! With that being said, did you or even one of your colleagues overestimate their capabilities once the didactic material was finished and you begin practicing your craft in your new elevated role? I have seen plenty of first year residents in a trauma suite have some eye-opening moments once the veteran attending walks in and points out something obvious is a physical exam that was initially missed. Moments like this play out in the streets of EMS as well.

I remember one of my early preceptors telling me..."Congrats on becoming a paramedic. today, it simply represents a card in your wallet. Now, the fun starts and it will take you a good 5-10 years to learn the craft of becoming one." This humbling message resonated with me -- it was quickly translated to - - you don't become an expert overnight. The longer I have been in field, the more weight and meaning those words carry. The practice of medicine is a humbling one because just as you think you've seen it all, some call even crazier and more complex will find its way into your lap.

Some would argue that everyone is susceptible to this phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is depicted by the image above. Sometimes a tiny bit of knowledge on a subject can lead people to mistakenly believe that they know all there is to know about it. As the old saying goes, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. If you have ever heard of imposter syndrome -- this Dunning-Kruger Effect would be the exact opposite.


  • Challenge your own way of thinking

  • Don't overestimate your common sense

  • Take constructive criticism seriously -- regularly ask others how you're doing

  • Mentors - please be honest with those under your tutelage

  • Question long-standing opinions about yourself

  • Investigate your important decisions -- take your time to reach a conclusion

  • Continue being a student - dedicate yourself to lifelong learning

  • Realize at times - we all need a small dose of intellectual humility

Below is a recreation of the first image at the beginning of the blog with some additional commentary as we walk our way through different areas of the curve. We've all been here.... Challenge yourself again -- Where are you on this curve right now?

At the end of the day, surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. Know your limits and be open to the opinions of others -- they may have something of value to add to the conversation OR multiple areas of your current clinical practice. The patients' you care for tomorrow will appreciate the fact that YOU recognize you've always got room to grow and improve.

April 1, 2024

Author: Joshua Ishmael, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, NRP

Pass with PASS, LLC.

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