9 lesser known things about Dr. Atul Gawande


Even before he was chosen to helm the healthcare venture for Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, the medical field knew the name Atul Gawande, MD.

Healthcare professionals may know him as a surgeon — Dr. Gawande practices general and endocrine surgery at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital — or as a professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Or they may have seen his byline in The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1998.

These accomplishments, while esteemed, are merely scratching the surface. Here are nine lesser known things about Dr. Gawande. 

1. His article captured the attention of the Oval Office — and Warren Buffet's business partner. In June 2009, Dr. Gawande published "The Cost Conundrum," in the The New Yorker, which examines why the town of McAllen, Texas, the Square Dance Capital of the World, was one of the most expensive places to receive healthcare in the U.S. This article captured the attention of President Barack Obama and "became required reading in the White House," according to the The New York Times, as well as the subject of meetings with aides and senators. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the article "affected his thinking dramatically."

Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, sent Dr. Gawande a $20,000 check to thank him for writing the article. When Dr. Gawande told him to give the money to public heath research, Mr. Munger wrote him another $20,000 check for research funds.

2. His friends' encouragement launched his writing career. Dr. Gawande started his writing career by penning articles about being a surgical resident for Slate's website, after his college friend Malcolm Gladwell and Slate editor Jacob Weisberg convinced him to become a columnist. Mr. Gladwell was also the one who pushed Dr. Gawande to pitch The New Yorker and remains "one of a handful of people I talk to regularly about what I'm trying to do in my career," Dr. Gawande told Boston Magazine in an interview.

3. He holds rough-draft book clubs. Dr. Gawande meets with a group of friends and writers in New York, where they eat takeout and critique his first drafts of books for three hours, he told The Boston Globe. His writing process is slow and full of rewrites. It doesn't come naturally to him, he said, but he especially loves the research phase of writing. Through this process, he has authored four New York Times bestselling books: Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

4. He has many favorite authors. Dr. Gawande is an avid reader and has favorite authors across genres, he told Guernica in an interview. He named Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Orwell and David Foster Wallace as influences, as well as medical writers Oliver Sacks, Abraham Verghese, Sherwin Nuland and Lewis Thomas.

5. His medical degree is one of many earned over his college career(s). Dr. Gawande was born in Brooklyn to two Indian parents and raised in Ohio. Both his parents were physicians, and he went to Stanford University with his sights set on medical school. The political atmosphere at Stanford inspired him to double major in political science and biology, and he signed on to volunteer for Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign, according to The New York Times.

He also earned a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, where he earned his master's in philosophy, politics and economics in 1989. While in England, he raised money for Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and wrote a thesis about Indian-African relations in South Africa, with great interest in Gandhi. He earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1995 and earned a Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1999.

6. He tried (and failed) as a rock & roller. Dr. Gawande had a rock band that had many names, one of which was "Thousands of Breaded Shrimp," he told Boston Magazine. Despite the "terrible" songs he wrote, his girlfriend Kathleen Hobson stayed with him. The two met at Stanford and married in 1992. Dr. Gawande credits her for opening him up to the world of literature.

7. He is politically active and influenced presidents' policy. Dr. Gawande went on to work on Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign and put medical school on hold to advise Bill Clinton on healthcare during his 1992 campaign. He also served as a senior adviser at HHS during the Clinton administration.

8. He is a recognized genius. Dr. Gawande was named a MacArthur genius in 2006, receiving a "no-strings attached" grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction."

9. He is committed to healthcare innovation. Dr. Gawande is founder and executive director of Ariadne Labs, a research center looking for scalable health systems solutions to improve childbirth, surgery and other care. He also serves as chairman of Lifebox, a nonprofit that aims to make surgery and anesthesia safer around the world. In 2007, Dr. Gawande led the World Health Organization's global effort to reduce surgical deaths.

More articles on leadership and management:

Dr. Atul Gawande tapped to lead Amazon, Berkshire, JPMorgan venture
3 takeaways from Andy Slavitt on Dr. Atul Gawande's new gig at Amazon-JPMorgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway venture
Healthcare companies shed their fears of Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture

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