Thursday, January 8, 2015

On orthodontists and dermatologists

I'm off to see my orthodontist this morning. How American is that?

At my first appointment Dr Hom asked me, as people do from time to time, what big differences I had observed between life in the US and the UK.

'Orthodontists', I told my orthodontist. I explained how in Britain we go to see our dentist to have our teeth checked, filled, straightened and whitened. I don't know anyone with an orthodontist.

Dr Hom thought that was sort of crazy. After all, you don't ask your GP to carry out surgery, do you?

Well no, you don't. But in Britain you do ask your Doctor to take a look at suspicious moles. You also take your child in when they sustain a minor head injury or are poorly. Again, not in America. Here I have a dermatologist, and Lady P has a pediatrician. (Which rather begs the question, what does my actual Doctor actually do?)

This difference strikes me as typical of lots of transatlantic contrasts. Essentially, us Brits bumble along as happy generalists.

Americans, by contrast, specialize. And early. Schoolchildren 'run track' (like, seriously, not just in PE). Graduates go on to get additional degrees (all my friends in the US have MBAs, JDs, etc). Waiters are actually professional waiters, and the busboys do a different job (as opposed to the UK where all the serving staff unite in ignoring their customers). And Doctors, even for basic, gatekeeping, primary, care, are specialists.

The American model, that thrusting ambition and refusal to accept generalists, is doubtless more successful. But I think I'll always have a soft spot for the enthusiastic amateurism of my compatriots.

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