Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls

I was at a faculty retreat today when I was struck by a thought: that the folks siting at the table around me were extraordinarily diverse - in background, expertise, and interests  - but they all identified themselves as informaticists, and not just as physicians, or computer scientists, or as computational biologists.

I’m fortunate to work with folks whose backgrounds are incredibly diverse - a librarian with an MBA, for example, or a PhD in computer science who plays the french horn professionally. Some of my colleagues are hard-core quantitative researchers who define evidence-based practice, while others conduct qualitative research that sounds suspiciously like ethnographic studies. And some of them (for example the bioinformatics folks) describe their extraordinarily complex research projects in terms I don’t understand well, but I find their work to be incredibly interesting.

Things were never this diversely complicated when I was a full-time internist. My physician colleagues and I, we may look different to outsiders but fundamentally we are all cut from the same cloth, we worship the same gods. An internal medicine conference is a familiar place where we discuss the best methods to manage disease in a familiar way that is comprehensible to all. 

But informatics conferences are very different. My informatics colleagues and I, we are all very different, and professionally we do very different things. It seems we spend a lot of time at these conferences trying to figure out exactly what informatics is.  But we all identify ourselves as informaticists, and that’s not a bad thing at all.