What a treat it was to have an hour in conversation with Atul Gawande at the Auckland Writers Festival in Auckland in May this year.

Atul is a general and endocrine surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. His clinical practice is at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where he is also a Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Atul’s latest book addresses the depressing realities of how we age and how we die and the role that modern medicine has assumed to deny these inevitabilities. Ultimately this is a profoundly optimistic book; personal and intimate, it is more of a “manual for life” than a depressing tome about aging and death.

In the introduction to Being Mortal, Atul recalls as a medical student being made to read “The Death of Ivan Illyich”. It was an attempt by the School to remind its students that ultimately the practice of medicine has a purpose: it’s about people and adding value to the lives that they live. Myself and other medical students also read this book in our third year of medical training in New Zealand and, like Atul, most were keen to put that behind us to get into the real business of acquiring knowledge. Sadly it seems that our interest in people might still be trumped by our interest in what we do to them or in the diseases that they present with.

Have a look at this preview of ‘Being Mortal’ via Ted Talks.

This excerpt is adapted with permission from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan Books). http://ideas.ted.com/death-and-the-missing-piece-of-medical-school/

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