Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a well-known author, has been named as chief executive of a new venture intended to solve the problems with the health care system in the United States.
Here are four things to know about the multifaceted Gawande:
■ He is an award-winning author
He has written several New York Times bestsellers, “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science,” which was a finalist for a National Book Award in 2002; “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance;” “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right;” and most recently, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.”
He has also fascinated readers of the New Yorker as a staff writer since 1998 and writes for other publications. He told the Globe in 2014 that he had been surprised by his success as a writer. “When I got the call telling me I was nominated for the National Book Award, I was going into the operating room. I felt like my world had changed, and I couldn’t explain it to anybody. After the book, I realized that this was as much what I do as my life as a surgeon,” he said.
■ He is a doctor and public health researcher
He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He also is a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.
His public health research has focused on the intersection of surgery and public health, much of it examining “errors in surgery, establishing its frequency and seriousness and revealing underlying mechanisms,” according to the Chan School website.
■ He has been involved in health care policy before — including Hillary Clinton’s failed reform effort in the 1990s
Gawande was raised in Athens, Ohio, and went to Stanford University. He studied philosophy and politics as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.
In an interview with Medscape, he recalled his early years working in government and “hopscotching” between those jobs and medical school. He talked about working on Al Gore’s campaign in 1988 and in Gore’s Senate office, and working on health care policy for a Tennessee congressman. He eventually became a health care adviser to candidate Bill Clinton in 1992.
“His task was to help flesh out Mr. Clinton’s health plan and defend it from Republican attacks,” the New York Times reported in 1994. Gawande was also a leader in the health care reform task force headed by First Lady Hillary Clinton. The task force’s proposals went nowhere.
“Politics was not a major part of our task,” Gawande, who by then had returned to Harvard Medical School, explained to the Times. “That was what the President and the First Lady and their political advisers were supposed to be dealing with. We were there to pull together options for them.”
■ He has received numerous awards, including a “genius” award
In 2006, Gawande, who was 40 at the time, won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. The foundation said he had “applied a critical eye to surgical practices” and scrutinized “the culture, protocol, and technology of modern medical practice from the perspective of a dedicated and empathetic professional. In all his published work, he brings fresh and unique perspective, clarity, and intuition to the field.” He received a Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 2016 in Massachusetts for championing “humanism in healthcare” through his work.