An Indian-origin surgeon writer Atul Gawande has won a "no strings attached" $500,000 "genius" award from America's prestigious John D & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.
Gawande, 40, whose many articles and essays on medicine in The New Yorker have made him one of the most recognised of American writers, is one of the 25 new MacArthur Fellows for 2006 announced by the Foundation in Chicago Tuesday.
Working across a broad spectrum of endeavours, they include a developmental biologist, a sculptor, a country doctor, a jazz violinist, and a deep-sea explorer. All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.
"Selection for a MacArthur Fellowship is the culmination of an intensive review of the creative efforts and promise of each Fellow. Our call comes as a complete surprise and offers the new Fellows the gift of time and an unfettered opportunity to reflect, explore, and create," said MacArthur president Jonathan Fanton.
According to the MacArthur profile of Gawande, he is a surgeon and author who applies a critical eye to modern surgical practice, articulating its realities, complexities, and challenges.
His book, Complications (2002), illuminates the concerns and problems faced by the surgeon-in-training with insight and compassion. In articles published in professional journals and mainstream periodicals, Gawande scrutinizes the culture, protocol, and technology of modern medical practice from the perspective of a dedicated and empathetic professional.
In all his published work, he brings fresh and unique perspective, clarity, and intuition to the field. Recognising the reality of human failures in an imperfect craft, Gawande is equally energetic and imaginative in the identification of practical changes and solutions.
Among his innovations are bar codes to prevent surgeons from inadvertently leaving sponges and instruments in patients and a simple score of one to ten indicating the likelihood of complications.
Through initiatives at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital, newly established to study and improve surgical safety, Gawande is giving leadership to the identification of numerous other bold enhancements to surgical protocol that will both improve practice and save lives.
A Rhodes scholar, Gawande studied ethics at Oxford. He also has a masters' degree from Harvard School of Public Health. His medical degrees are also from Harvard.
Currently, he is a surgeon and an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and an assistant professor in health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Other people of Indian origin to win the award include musician Ali Akbar Khan and poet and professor A K Ramanujan who died over a decade ago.
Another South Asian to win this year's award is a 37-year-old Pakistani American painter, Shahzia Sikander. She is described as an artist whose visually striking, resonant works merge the traditional South Asian art of miniature painting with contemporary forms and styles.
The MacArthur Fellows Programme was the first major grant making initiative of the Foundation. The inaugural class of MacArthur Fellows was named in 1981. Including this year's Fellows, 732 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82 at the time of their selection, have been named MacArthur Fellows since the inception of the programme.