Atul Gawande (left) with Jack Cochran, Executive Director of Kaiser Permanente Atul Gawande (born on November 5, 1965 in Brooklyn, NY) is an American physician and journalist. He is known in the public arena as an expert on reducing error, improving safety, and increasing efficiency in surgery. He serves as a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and associate director of their Center for Surgery and Public Health. He is also an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. He has written extensively on medicine and public health for The New Yorker and Slate and is the author of the books Complications, Better, and The Checklist Manifesto.
Gawande was born in Brooklyn, New York to Indian Maharashtrian immigrants to the United States, both doctors. The family soon moved to Athens, Ohio, where he and his sister grew up. He obtained an undergraduate degree from Stanford University in 1987, was a Rhodes scholar (earning a degree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics from Balliol College, Oxford in 1989), and later graduated from Harvard Medical School. He also has a Master of Public Health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Political career and medical school
As a student Gawande was a volunteer for Gary Hart's campaign. As a Rhodes Scholar, he spent one year at Oxford University. After graduation, he joined Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign. He worked as a health-care researcher for Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN), who was author of a "managed competition" health care proposal for the Conservative Democratic Forum. After two years he left medical school to become Bill Clinton's health care lieutenant during the 1992 campaign and became a senior adviser 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 his M.D in 1994.
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 was called "the best article you'll see this year on American health care why it's so expensive, why it's so poor, [and] what can be done" by Ezra Klein of The Washington Post. Using the town of McAllen, Texas as an example, it argued that a revenue-maximizing businessman-like 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 was cited by President Barack Obama during Obama's attempt to get health care reform legislation passed by the United States Congress. The article "made waves" and according to Senator Ron Wyden, the article "affected [Obama's] thinking dramatically", and was shown to a group of senators by Obama, who 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 reportedly donated the $20,000 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 also 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, and The Best American Science Writing 2009.
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.
Awards and recognition
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 in 2009.
He was named one of the 20 Most Influential South Asians by Newsweek in 2004. In the 2010 Time 100 he was included (fifth place) in Thinkers Category. Also in 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers.
In the medical field, he is an expert on the removal of cancerous endocrine glands.
Gawande lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife, Kathleen Hobson, and his three children (Walker, Hattie and Hunter).