I don't think I've mentioned this before, but the surgeon and Harvard professor Atul Gawande is one of my favorite non-fiction authors - his lengthy articles for the New York Times, Slate and The New Yorker are just fabulous. I haven't had a chance to read either of his books yet, but I did watch a fantastic public lecture [73mb .m4v] he gave last year on his latest book, Better. The book, it seems, builds on a New Yorker article Gawande wrote back in 2004, in which he explored the somewhat surprising fact that the performance of medical doctors fits onto a bell curve. That is, some doctors, for reasons that are difficult to discern, are significantly better than others despite seemingly similar levels of skill, conscientiousness and professionalism. His conclusion is nicely summarized by the following:
We are used to thinking that a doctor’s ability depends mainly on science and skill. The lesson from [the preceding stories] is that these may be the easiest parts of care. Even doctors with great knowledge and technical skill can have mediocre results; more nebulous factors like aggressiveness and consistency and ingenuity can matter enormously.Anyway, I highly recommend both the video and the article.
(Thanks to John McCoy for introducing me to Gawande's writing...).