CEO, Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/JP Morgan Chase health organization

By Dr. David Shaywitz, senior partner, Takeda Ventures

When Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan selected Harvard surgeon, health policy expert, and The New Yorker writer Atul Gawande to lead their nonprofit effort to reimagine care delivery for their U.S. employees, the healthcare community erupted in delight.

Gawande is a multiscale thinker focused on implementation, one who is instinctively attuned to the patient experience. Consequently, he brings an “impressive ability to see through the complexity that surrounds our healthcare system and create narratives in simple and relatable ways people can understand,” according to his Harvard colleague Dr. Ashish Jha.

Gawande seems able to appreciate the full complexity and nuance of medicine, from molecules and anatomy to patients and caregivers. He maintains exceptional depth of field and is able to visualize problems clearly at each level of focus.

During his younger days, Gawande apparently imagined himself at a think tank (as he told journalist Ezra Klein in 2016), but he subsequently, and very deliberately, transformed himself into a doer. He selected surgery not because it was a natural fit — it wasn’t, he says — but because he was fascinated by it. Over time, he developed the traits associated with the discipline, including the ability to make decisions based on incomplete information and the willingness to live with the inevitable mistakes. He discovered he was passionate about implementation – the challenge of turning promising early-stage findings into system-level improvements in healthcare delivery, a topic that’s he’s focused on globally through the creation of Ariadne Labs.

But what ultimately makes Gawande so special is his fundamental humanity, his recognition that all of us are simultaneously fallible yet capable of great things – bravery, insight, persistence, strength in the face of infirmity, dignity in the face of death. His empathy allows him to critique a process but embrace the participants, and seek integrative solutions attuned both to the exigencies of health and the frailty – and the decency – of the individuals entrusted to deliver care as well as those who receive it.

 

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