Nash Naam

Last week, as a member of the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons, I attended its annual congress in San Francisco. During the meeting about 2,000 surgeons were inducted as new fellows adding to the 85,000 fellows of the college. Surprisingly, 40% of the new fellows were from outside the United States and Canada coming from 71 countries some of which are friendly such as Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and France but many are not so friendly including Iran, Venezuela, China and Russia.

The question is: Why do these international surgeons want to become fellows of the American College of Surgeons? We don’t see a similar phenomenon in China, Russia or even England or France. The answer is simple. The American medical organizations are the BEST in the world. They are the driving force behind most of advances in medicine with its numerous branches. I see the same phenomenon in our hand surgery societies. As the President-Elect of the American Association for Hand Surgery, I am familiar firsthand with the structure and composition of our membership. We have members from over 50 countries. This is the same in every American medical organization.

This is a bright example of America’s exceptionalism. While Some Americans are shy from using this phrase for fear of appearing arrogant, some think that this is not entirely true. They don’t see America’s exceptionalism as something special and unique. They argue that this is no different from Chinese exceptionalism or Cambodian exceptionalism. I beg to differ. America’s Exceptionalism is true and clear. Not only in medicine, but in almost all spheres of knowledge from architecture to astronomy to engineering to film making. That is why about 2 billion people watch the Oscars while a fraction of that watch BAFTA, which is British equivalent.

If you search any aspect of human knowledge you will find that America is far superior to any other country. That does not mean that other countries are not good. No, some of them are excellent but America still stands out as the BEST in almost every human endeavor.

This level of American Exceptionalism gives us the assurance that there are no problems that we can’t solve if we put our minds and resources to solve them. The problem is that the political polarization makes us unable to see the problems for what they are. Our political inclinations make us see each problem through a Republican or democratic prism. That intense disagreement spills over any suggestions for solving many of our problems. We do have the means, and we have the brains but what we are lacking is the political harmony and the will to leave our differences behind and work together to solve the problems. But this does not need politicians, but it needs statesmen. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough of those anymore.

But why do some Americans doubt the presence of America’s exceptionalism? Many Americans feel uncomfortable with this designation as if we are bragging about our abilities. They don’t want to give the impression that we are arrogant. But the facts speak for themselves. In almost every American scientific meeting, a large percentage of attendees are from other countries. Even the number of American Nobel Prize winners exceed that of any other country. So, without any bragging or any exaggeration, American exceptionalism is unequivocally true.

With this degree of excellence comes also a responsibility. Our responsibility is to maintain our exceptionalism. This requires hard work, more dedication to science and determination to strive to be the best. Other countries are working hard to dislodge America from that distinguished position. The global spread of technology has leveled the playing field and put more pressure on us to do more in order to maintain our distinction.

Maintaining our level of exceptionalism does not mean disengaging from the rest of the world. Actually, it is the opposite. For example, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord is not a wise move. Disengaging from the rest of the world does not strengthen our position but it erodes our leadership. We can’t lead if we don’t have a place on the table. As I see in the field of Medicine, our interaction with our colleagues from the rest of the world actually strengthens our ability to maintain our leadership. We should approach our relationship with the rest of the world with certain degree of foresight and panoramic vision and not with a narrow and limited scope.

So, in the middle of the political noise that occupies most of the media landscape, we should not forget our position in the world and how America is indeed exceptional. America’s exceptionalism has been good not only for Americans but also for the rest of humankind.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you