More from Gawande on controlling healthcare costs  JUN 15 2009

On Friday, Atul Gawande gave the commencement address at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. The address touched on some of the same themes as his recent piece on the differing costs of healthcare across the US. He began with an anecdote about how observation of well-nourished children in poor Vietnamese villages led to village-wide improvments in curbing malnutrition.

The villagers discovered that there were well-nourished children among them, despite the poverty, and that those children's mothers were breaking with the locally accepted wisdom in all sorts of ways -- feeding their children even when they had diarrhea; giving them several small feedings each day rather than one or two big ones; adding sweet-potato greens to the children's rice despite its being considered a low-class food. The ideas spread and took hold. The program measured the results and posted them in the villages for all to see. In two years, malnutrition dropped sixty-five to eighty-five per cent in every village the Sternins had been to.

And I don't know why, but I've always thought of surgery as primarily a cerebral pursuit; a great surgeon is so because he's clever and smart. A short passage from Gawande's address reveals that perhaps that's not the case:

In surgery, for instance, I know that I have more I can learn in mastering the operations I do. So what does a surgeon like me do? We look to those who are unusually successful -- the positive deviants. We watch them operate and learn their tricks, the moves they make that we can take home.

So surgeons learn surgery in the same way that kids learn Kobe Bryant's post moves from SportsCenter highlights?

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