Yields and Rabbit Holes: Medical Students' Typologies of Sufficient Knowledge

Med Anthropol. 2020 Apr;39(3):255-268. doi: 10.1080/01459740.2019.1640220. Epub 2019 Jul 23.


Given the vastness of bioscientific knowledge and regular changes in evidence and protocol, how do individual clinicians make decisions about what to know and what to ignore? In this article I identify a process termed "sufficient knowledge:" the prioritizing of medical knowledge perceived as most important, while ignoring information that is not deemed essential or applicable. Drawing on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork at an allopathic medical school in the American Midwest, I describe three typologies of sufficient knowledge that medical students devised to distinguish what to know and what to ignore or deemphasize: high yield knowledge, low yield knowledge and "rabbit holes." I aim here to contribute to a growing topical and theoretical discussion of ignorance by social scientists, especially to generate a more balanced picture of physician training and practice beyond depictions of knowledge and expertise.

Keywords: Agnotology; biomedicine; ignorance; medical education; socialization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Education, Medical*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*