Questionable comments by Atul Gawande after the Boston Marathon bombings

April 20, 2013 By Steven E. Greer, MD

Only two days after the April 15th Boston Marathon terrorist bombings, Harvard surgeon Atul Gawande posted an online essay in The New Yorker about the effective response from fist responders and the treating medical centers. Dr. Gawande is a cancer surgeon and was not part of the trauma responses.

In his New Yorker article, Dr. Gawande wrote, “We have, as one colleague put it to me, replaced our pre-9/11 naïveté with post-9/11 sobriety.” That was a profound statement and something that could become an iconic catchphrase, similar to Matt Taibbi’s famous quote in Rolling Stone referring to Goldman Sachs as, “A great vampire squid”.

On Saturday, April 20th, one day after the surviving bomber was arrested, Dr. Gawande was a guest on the CBS Morning Show discussing the remarkable medical responses from Boston medical centers. Once again, he used the excellent line, “We have replaced our pre-9/11 naïveté with post-9/11 sobriety.”, but this time, he failed to mention that those were not his own words. He left out “as one colleague put it to me”.

Given that Dr. Gawande was not part of actual trauma response teams, the least he could have done was give name recognition and credit to his colleagues. Moreover, when he was invited by CBS, why did he not respectfully decline and defer to his surgeon peers who performed the lifesaving cases? He seemed more than willing to be the face associated with the excellent medical care, or the poet-scribe-historian of the matter.

This is not the first time that Dr. Gawande has been associated with controversy and accused of rebranding others’ ideas. He wrote books and spoke to numerous audiences about the surgical checklist concept which was actually pioneered at Johns Hopkins by Drs. Peter Pronovost and Marty Makary. Dr. Gawande moved on to make PBS specials about the concept of “hot spotting” the most medical costly regions of a city. Hot spotting was pioneered by Dr. Jeffrey Brenner in Camden, New Jersey.

With checklists and hot spotting, Dr. Gawande properly gave brief perfunctory credit to the pioneers, but he went too far by rebranding the ideas as his own. In both cases, he proceeded to make television shows and books based on the ideas of others.

On February 15th, 2011, Dr. Gawande posted an original tweet (not a re-tweet) that read, “biggest portion of the budget (22%, $900 B) while the military might controls only 19% ($700B)”. However, once again, those were not his own words. On February 14th, this author, Steven Greer, tweeted on @THEHCC the novel observation, “The meek (doctors) inherited the earth. HHS is 22% of total budget ($900B) military is only 19% ($700B)” and also emailed the comment to various people, including Dr. Gawande.

When Dr. Gawande’s tweet was posted on the 15th, I emailed him, “Thanks for giving us a shout out on your Twitter about the 23% v 19% budget comment. However, you left out the RT @THEHCC. If you could please fix that, I would be appreciative.”. Dr. Gawande then gave credit to @THEHCC. However, the exact post cannot be found, since Dr. Gawande has inexplicably deleted the tweet.

Dr. Gawande seems to have a character flaw of taking good ideas from others and rebranding them as his own. He does it so frequently that he sometimes does not even realize that he is doing it, as he demonstrated on national TV (video above).

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