Atul Gawande as Healthcare CEO


I was quoted a few days ago in this article and a number of people have asked why I think the choice of Atul Gawande to lead the new healthcare venture formed by Amazon, J.P. Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway’s is so good. Several have suggested that this will be a part-time gig for Dr. Gawande since he will continue to practice medicine, do research, write books, etc. I thought it would be useful to publish the full statement released to the press because it touches on that concern and provides my rationale for celebrating this choice.

That said, I have no special knowledge of Dr. Gawande's plans nor how many hours he will work. In fact, I don't know him personally. I've based my assessment on what I've seen and read about him over the years. Plus, I have worked in healthcare for 25 years so have experienced plenty of leaders and management teams. And as it relates to physician leaders in particular: it has been my experience that the ones who continue to see patients, even when leading or managing organizations, have always been the best. They don't lose touch with what really matters in delivering care.

The following statement is attributable to Bunny Ellerin, Columbia Business School’s Director of Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program, on the selection of Dr. Atul Gawande as the new head of Amazon, J.P. Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway’s newly-formed healthcare venture: 

“This choice is brilliant. Dr. Gawande embodies exactly what we want in healthcare – a practicing physician with compassion, empathy and a patient-centered philosophy. He is someone who believes that we can do better and deliver improved healthcare if we focus on what’s important to the individual patient and to society more broadly. He also knows that confronting tough issues like pricing and cost head-on isn’t a choice – it’s a must. Dr. Gawande has already changed the practice of medicine with The Checklist Manifesto. That demonstrates how impactful he can be in his new role. Remember: it typically take 17 years for new procedures to filter down into medical practice, and he effected change in a far shorter time-period.

“Obviously the new company also needs talented business people on the team to address rising costs and lack of transparency throughout the system. But I have no doubt that this venture will bring together some of the best business minds, both from inside and outside the industry. Having Dr. Gawande at the helm is exciting for the industry, and should make us hopeful that we will see real change through this initiative.”