I was greatly impressed last year by Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins, who offered a deceptively-simple idea that surgical teams use a checklist, just like air pilots, to prevent mistakes.
Now the MacArthur Foundation has recognized the idea, giving Pronovost one of its 25 "genius" awards.
The nominal value of the grants is $500,000 each, but as with Nobel Prizes their symbolic value is far higher. Anyone who gets such a grant is certified forevermore as a "genius," and will be respected as such by media and peers.
Four of the 25 awards this year went to people in the medical profession, and in every case it went to people challenging the status quo, not in the name of genius, but in the name of what is right.
In addition to Pronovost they are:
- Diane Meier, who works on "palliative care," dealing with the emotional needs of seriously-ill people.
- Wafaa El-Sadr, who enlisted homeless TB patients in getting other patients to comply with their treatment.
- Regina Benjamin, who founded a health clinic to help people devastated by hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.
Critics may note that these people are not really geniuses, but idealists with persistance in pushing simple ideas. Treat everyone. Get patients to help. Listen to people. Trust your team.
It may be telling, in terms of how resistant the medical profession is to change, that the MacArthur Foundation decided to move in this way.