In Atul Gawande's new book, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, he asks: What things are health care professionals doing better, and how can they continue to improve? His first discussion involves one of the seemingly simplest methods of reducing infections in hospitals: hand washing. As he tours his hospital with an infectious disease specialist, Gawande realizes how difficult it can be for every person who enters a hospital room to wash their hands on their way in and on their way out. (Think, for instance, of how many rooms hospital workers enter each day.) Gawande is a master of setting scenes and drawing in readers with details and drama. He travels through villages in India with World Health Organization doctors on a mop-up mission to vaccinate millions of susceptible children in an area surrounding a new case of polio. In another essay, Gawande sits in on War Rounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then examines how better trauma care is helping more soldiers survive life-threatening injuries. We meet a Boston physician who ended up suing his own hospital for malpractice. Gawande uses such personal stories as fodder for in-depth looks at the many facets of complicated issues such as malpractice, doctors' salaries and more.

Gawande, a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, has a hefty resume: assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, surgeon at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, frequent essayist for The New Yorker and author of the National Book Award finalist Complications. Gawande is one of the best medical writers working today, and this book's short afterword should be required reading for any medical student.

Alice Cary lives near Boston and is an avid fan of medical dramas of every type.

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