Atul Gawande (born November 5, 1965) is an American surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Samuel O. Thier Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. In public health, he is executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation, and chairman of Lifebox, a nonprofit that works on reducing deaths in surgery globally. On June 20, 2018, Dr. Gawande was named the CEO of a recently formed healthcare venture Haven, owned by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase.
Gawande in 2013
|Alma mater||Stanford University (BA, BS)|
University of Oxford (MA)
Harvard University (MD, MPH)
|Fields||Surgery, Journalism, Public health|
He has written extensively on medicine and public health for The New Yorker and Slate, and is the author of the books Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science; Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance; The Checklist Manifesto; and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.
Early years and education
Gawande was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Indian immigrants to the United States, both doctors. His family soon moved to Athens, Ohio, where he and his sister grew up, and he graduated from Athens High School in 1983.
Gawande earned a bachelor's degree in biology and political science from Stanford University in 1987. As a Rhodes Scholar, he earned an M.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Balliol College, Oxford in 1989. He graduated with a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard Medical School in 1995, and earned a Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1999. He completed his general surgical residency training, again at Harvard, in 2003.
As an undergraduate, Gawande was a volunteer for Gary Hart's campaign. After graduating, he joined Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign. He worked as a health-care researcher for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), who was author of a "managed competition" health care proposal for the Conservative Democratic Forum. He entered medical school in 1990 — leaving after two years to become Bill Clinton's healthcare lieutenant during the 1992 campaign. He later became a senior advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services after Clinton's inauguration. He directed one of the three committees of the Clinton Health Care Task Force, supervising 75 people and defined the benefits packages for Americans and subsidies and requirements for employers. He returned to medical school in 1993 and earned a medical degree in 1995.
Soon after he began his residency, his friend Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, asked him to contribute to the online magazine. His pieces on the life of a surgical resident caught the eye of The New Yorker which published several pieces by him before making him a staff writer in 1998.
A June 2009 New Yorker essay by Gawande compared the health care of two towns in Texas to show why health care was more expensive in one town compared to the other. Using the town of McAllen, Texas, as an example, it argued that a corporate, profit-maximizing culture (which can provide substantial amounts of unnecessary care) was an important factor in driving up costs, unlike a culture of low-cost high-quality care as provided by the Mayo Clinic and other efficient health systems.
The article "made waves" and was cited by President Barack Obama during Obama's attempt to get health care reform legislation passed by the United States Congress. According to Senator Ron Wyden, the article "affected [Obama's] thinking dramatically", and was shown to a group of senators by Obama, who effectively said, "This is what we've got to fix." After reading the New Yorker article, Warren Buffett's long-time business partner Charlie Munger mailed a check to Gawande in the amount of $20,000 as a thank-you to Dr. Gawande for providing something so socially useful. Gawande returned the check and was subsequently sent a new check for $40,000. Gawande donated the $40,000 to the Brigham and Women's Hospital Center for Surgery and Public Health.
In addition to his popular writing, Gawande has published studies on topics including military surgery techniques and error in medicine, included in the New England Journal of Medicine. He is the director of the World Health Organization's Global Patient Safety Challenge. His essays have appeared in The Best American Essays 2003, The Best American Science Writing 2002, The Best American Science Writing 2009 and Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011.
In 2012, he gave the TED talk "How Do We Heal Medicine?". The talk has been viewed over 1.9 million times.
Gawande published his first book, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, in 2002. It was a National Book Award finalist, and has been published in over one hundred countries.
His second book, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, was released in April 2007. It discusses three virtues that Gawande considers to be most important for success in medicine: diligence, doing right, and ingenuity. Gawande offers examples in the book of people who have embodied these virtues. The book strives to present multiple sides of contentious medical issues, such as malpractice law in the US, physicians' role in capital punishment, and treatment variation between hospitals.
Gawande released his third book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, in 2009. It discusses the importance of organization and pre-planning (such as thorough checklists) in both medicine and the larger world. The Checklist Manifesto reached the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list in 2010.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End was released in October 2014 and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. It discusses end of life choices about assisted living and the effect of medical procedures on terminally ill people. It challenges many traditionally held notions about the role of medicine. The book was the basis of a documentary for the PBS television series "Frontline" and was first broadcast on February 10, 2015.
Awards and honors
In 2004, he was named one of the 20 Most Influential South Asians by Newsweek. In the 2010 Time 100, he was included (fifth place) in Thinkers Category. The same year, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers.
In 2006, Gawande was named a MacArthur Fellow for his work investigating and articulating modern surgical practices and medical ethics. In 2007, he became director of the World Health Organization's effort to reduce surgical deaths, and in 2009 he was elected a Hastings Center Fellow.
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