Are You A Nurse Polymath? The Nurse Keith Show, EPS 76

Nurses need to know a lot of things; nursing professionals have vast stores of knowledge about anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, human growth and development, research, biostatistics, and so much more. Here on episode 76 of The Nurse Keith Show, we’re talking about the power and influence of

nurse polymaths.

the polymath nurse

On September 26th, 2016, I published a blog post entitled “The Polymath Nurse” and it was too juicy a subject to not do a companion podcast episode for. Not everyone knows what a polymath is, so the first thing I did was define it:

Wikipedia defines a polymath as “a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.” Merriam-Webster states that a polymath is “someone who knows a lot about many different things.”

My go-to example of a polymath is none other than Leonardo da Vinci. He was a painter, inventor, scientist, mathematician, engineer, writer, and even a paleontologist. Leonardo is more than a cool Ninja Turtle; he is a symbol of what is sometimes referred to as a “Renaissance Man“, which I would now call a “Renaissance Person“.

Polymaths often move culture and society forward in ways we can’t even measure due to the far-reaching depth and breadth of their influence. So, you ask, what do polymaths have to do with nursing? Please indulge me, dear Reader.

Polymathism and the Nurse

As mentioned above, nurses need to know many things; we’re not just pill-pushers and hangers of IVs. In that blog post, I elucidate how nurses’ jobs are so complex and call for broad knowledge:

Let’s say you work in a busy ICU, CCU, or Med/Surg unit. The patients you care for are medically complex, and when you pull the camera back and examine their lives from a holistic viewpoint, you can see that their lives beyond the hospital bed are incredibly multifaceted and complex.

For patients with addiction, mental illness, and multiple comorbidities, providing care can be a tricky business that calls for great tact, sensitivity, compassion, and an understanding of the challenges faced by the patient and his or her family. Socioeconomics, education, and many other factors collude to complicate medical care, and the astute nurse may need to address more than just meds, IV pumps, and symptom management.

In home health, my area of nursing specialty, nurses must sometimes act as family counselors, plumbers and carpenters, not to mention clinicians. Nurse entrepreneurs are also polymath material, sometimes straddling the worlds of business and clinical nursing on a daily basis. So many nurses are probably polymaths and don’t even know it.

And here’s why polymathism can empower a nurse:

A nurse clinician polymath is a multifaceted health professional who approaches patient care and the nursing process with eyes wide open and curiosity on high alert. The nurse polymath reads voraciously, but not just about nursey stuff; he or she reads about culture, society, politics, art, economics, or anything else that deserves attention. Her breadth of knowledge can be applied to solving problems in sophisticated and creative ways.

In business, the nurse entrepreneur polymath may take a deep dive into social media, become an expert in WordPress, learn to use accounting software, study emotional intelligence, create an app, and write a series of books. The polymath business owner isn’t necessarily a master of everything nor a novice at most things; the polymath knows enough to be proficient or conversant with what’s necessary, with natural curiosity being a driving force behind continued learning and increased mastery.

Nurse polymaths understand the currents moving through culture and society, absorbing that which informs and strengthens their work in the world.

Polymathism isn’t always about the intellectual, either; there are different forms of intelligence, including emotional intelligence, and while one nurse may be an intellectual powerhouse, another might be an emotionally intelligent sensitive with deep powers of empathy and the ability to read others’ emotions.

The Polymath Curse?

Yes, a Jack (or a Jill) of all trades can run into the challenge of being such a generalist that he or she loses the power of focus on one area of expertise; polymathism can seem like an ADHD nightmare.

But like I said in my blog post, “Leonardo obviously didn’t know everything; granted, he lived in a much less complex time, but there were certainly areas of life and living that his intellect didn’t aspire to conquer. Still, some of us have probably known people who worked hard to be well-read and erudite, but who perhaps seemed so lost in their minds that they couldn’t even relate to people.”

Balanced Nurse Polymathism

Balance is truly the key in almost any aspect of life. We can’t know it all and do it all. Here’s what the original post said about that:

The balanced nurse polymath has areas of expertise that he or she delves into with gusto, creativity, and enthusiasm.

My areas of professional expertise include writing, podcasting, social media, and coaching, and I have a few other areas that are also relatively strong. However, when it comes to accounting, complex tech issues, coding, or building websites, I have others do those tasks for me because they simply don’t interest me enough to make time to learn–or I’m just too plain busy to bother. When I was a homeowner, I hired out for everything because my skills as a handyman are—unlike Leonardo—pretty abysmal. This polymath doesn’t do plumbing and carpentry. Or windows.

Otherwise, I have a fairly solid store of knowledge related to certain types of music, art, and literature, and there are some other subjects that similarly draw me in. I don’t try to know it all, but my interests are broad enough to keep me on my toes and constantly learning, reading, and growing in my chosen areas of greatest interest.

Balanced polymathism can truly serve the nurse who wishes to be well-rounded; you can’t know everything about everything, but you can know a significant amount about the many things that speak to you most deeply.

Polymath nurses, it’s time to come out of the closet; spread your polymath wings, read your books, expand your knowledge, learn that which makes you happy, and use that knowledge and understanding to be a better person, a more skilled clinician, a more informed citizen, and a more powerful, effective nurse.


The episode of the Nurse Keith Show sponsored by StaffGarden, episode of The Nurse Keith Show is brought to you by my friends at StaffGarden, a unique digital healthcare company allowing nurses to create a private online ePortfolio that StaffGarden shares with high-quality employers (with your permission, of course) in order to connect you with the best facilities and positions.

StaffGarden partners with fantastic employers seeking the best candidates in the nursing profession; through powerful partnerships with the recruiters and talent acquisition professionals employed by these healthcare leaders, they deliver your ePortfolio directly to the people who are looking for nurses just like you.

Having a StaffGarden ePortfolio and landing a job with a partnering employer costs you nothing. However, your ePortfolio will get you noticed for positions that you would likely not have access to through traditional ads or job postings.

As a nurse, partnering with StaffGarden adds depth and breadth to your job search process, as well as your exposure to some of the most progressive healthcare employers in the country. Allow SG to work for you and connect you with some of the greatest job opportunities in 21st-century healthcare.


The NNBA and Networking Nurses

In the fall of 2015, I recorded episode 29 of the Nurse Keith Show from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I was glowing from a glorious time at the annual conference of the National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA). Well, from October 14th to 16th of this year, I’ll be back at the 2016 NNBA conference with bells on, and I’m super psyched that Kevin Ross and Elizabeth Scala—my partners in crime at RNFM Radio—will also be with me.

The National Nurses in Business Association 2016 annual conferenceJust as a heads up, the three of us from RNFM Radio will be putting on a pre-conference workshop where attendees will be able to learn the basics of podcasting, and actually go home with all of the information they need to actually launch a podcast on a shoestring. There are other great pre-conferences on the schedule, as well, but we obviously want you to come to ours because it’s going to be fantastic. Check it all out here.


The Nurse Keith Show is adroitly edited and produced by Tim Hallowell of The; social media and promotion are expertly handled by Mark Capispisan.

Please consider leaving a review of The Nurse Keith Show over on iTunes; this helps more nurses and healthcare professionals find the show and benefit from the information being shared. Just visit iTunes, click on the iTunes store, search for The Nurse Keith Show under podcasts, and leave a review, and voila. Thanks!

Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BCKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith is also the resident nursing career expert at

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and currently writes for MultiViews News Service,, StaffGarden, and Working Nurse Magazine.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives.

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