Dr Atul Gawande- Physician, Writer, Role Model

Last year I attended a lecture by Dr Atul Gawande, a physician with several best selling books (Complications, Better and most recently The Checklist Manifesto) who came into prominence due to an article he wrote in June 2009 for the New Yorker called The Cost Conundrum. It is well worth your time to read it.

The article became popular after President Obama read it and brought it into a meeting with several senators regarding health care reform. Since then Dr Gawande has increasingly been seen as an innovative voice in regards to improving health care quality while controlling costs.

Based on the speech I heard, that distinction is well deserved. He is an impressive speaker. He explains complex issues clearly and is a talented story teller. Most of all, he is inspiring. He sincerely believes that we can improve health care and he’s so passionate about it that you can’t help but want to come along for the ride.

One of his main points was that when examining outcomes and making comparisons in medicine the most useful comparison is not looking at good vs. bad, but rather good vs. great. Most physicians and hospitals in the USA fall somewhere along the good spectrum. Dr Gawande argued that the best way to to improve care is to observe who is standing out and doing the best, then examine why that is the case and how that can be emulated in other places.

At the end of the lecture they allowed a question and answer period. The questions were written on note cards by audience members during the lecture. My question was picked! I asked,

‘What can medical students be doing while in school to make sure that they become great?”

His answer was brief and basically touched on two points.

1. Medicine is become more and more collaborative, so the better you work in a team environment the better a physician you will be. Practice working with other people.

2. Take the initiative to learn things on your own.

Medical school starts next month. I’ll do my best to become a great physician, with Dr Gawande as a role model. Maybe someday I’ll write some bestsellers too!

Have you read any of Dr Gawande’s books? What did you think?