MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant Recipients

Each year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation offers “no-strings attached” awards to individuals who have “shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

Five current or former HSPH faculty members have received the “genius” award, including, Professors Atul GawandeSue GoldieJim Yong KimJoel Schwartz, and John Cairns.


Atul Gawande: 2006

Atul GawandeAssistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School General and Endocrine Surgeon, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Professor in the HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management

Dr. Gawande works at the nexus of medicine, public health, and media. He is a practicing surgeon who writes about the medical world in both The New Yorker and The New England Journal of Medicine. In 2002, he published a book of essays, “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science”, which became a finalist for a National Book Award. In that year, the book was named’s best nonfiction title, and Time magazine called it one of the year’s five best.

At HSPH, Dr. Gawande is in the vanguard of health systems research. His research focuses on improving health systems, particularly in reducing medical errors. He was part of a team that analyzed 15,000 patient records from Colorado and Utah hospitals, and found that three percent of patients suffered death, disability, or a prolonged hospital stay from some form of error, the researchers found. Two-thirds of mistakes occurred in surgery, either in the OR or in decision making outside of it. Half of these missteps were avoidable.

In another study, he found that the number one risk factor for mistakes made by surgeons was inexperience on the part of the surgeons. He has examined data on how often and what kind of instruments sometimes are left inside patients after surgery. He is part of group of researchers, led by HSPH Adjunct Professor Lucian Leape, who emphasize the need to address failures in systems—not in individual doctors—to reduce medical error. To that end, Dr. Gawande is the Assistant Director of the Center for Surgery and Public Health, a joint collaboration of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and HSPH.

In its award to Dr. Gawande, the MacArthur Foundation noted, “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. Recognizing 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.”

Said HSPH Dean Barry Bloom: “We are enormously gratified that this is the fourth member of our faculty to be awarded a MacArthur fellowship. We feel privileged to have someone with his surgical perspective, his novel research, and literary talent to convey some of the most important public health issues in this country and abroad to a wider audience.”

Dr. Gawande received a B.A.S. (1987) from Stanford University, an M.A. (1989) from the University of Oxford, an M.D. (1995) from Harvard Medical School, and an M.P.H. (1999) from HSPH. Since 2003, he has been an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and a surgeon in the Division of General and Gastrointestinal Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Since 2004, he has served as an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at HSPH and as assistant director of the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and writes the “Notes of a Surgeon” column for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Read the MacArthur Foundation profile on Dr. Gawande


Sue Goldie: 2005

S_GoldieProfessor of Health Decision Science, HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management

Dr. Sue Goldie applies the tools of decision science to evaluate the clinical benefits, public health impact, and cost-effectiveness of alternative preventive and treatment interventions for viruses that are major public health problems.

Goldie develops and validates computer-based models linking the basic biology of a disease and its epidemiology to outcomes in large populations. Her focus in the last several years has been on three viruses of major public health importance: HIV, hepatitis, and the human papilloma virus (HPV). Collectively, these three viruses –together with the conditions they lead to (AIDS, liver cancer and cervical cancer, respectively) — are responsible for an enormous burden of disease, have a substantial impact on quality of life, are associated with both high medical and societal costs, and represent important public health challenges for low, middle and upper income countries.

In recent years Goldie has concentrated her effort on identifying effective and cost-effective strategies to reduce the burden of cervical cancer, the most common cause of cancer death in women worldwide. She has adapted her biological disease model of HPV to a range of epidemiological settings in order to address the most relevant questions for cervical cancer control in different parts of the world. Her work has informed cervical cancer screening guidelines in several countries, has contributed to timely policy issues and debates in the national and international arena around the potential of HPV vaccination, and has catalyzed key changes in how public health leaders approach screening in the poorest countries.

The mathematical models she constructs differ from many models used for cost-effectiveness analysis in that they are “biologically-based,” hewing closely to the underlying disease process as it unfolds, while remaining consistent with observed epidemiological data. They extend information available from observational studies by extrapolating patterns beyond the time horizon of a single study, and can be used to evaluate strategies in a wide range of settings. In addition to relating biological and clinical information, they can provide quantitative insight into the relative importance of different components of the prevention or treatment process and allow investigation of how results will change if values of key parameters are varied. By identifying the most influential parameters she can identify key information gaps and prioritize and guide data collection efforts.

Said HSPH Dean Barry Bloom of Dr. Goldie: “She has a rare ability to go from the most theoretical analysis of decision-making in health care to translating that into the real world of both rich and poor countries in a way that has already made an enormous difference in women’s health.”

Dr. Goldie received her M.P.H. (1997) from HSPH, and her M.D. (1988) from Albany Medical College.

Read the MacArthur Foundation profile on Dr. Goldie


Jim Yong Kim: 2003

jim-kimCurrently: President, World Bank Group
Previously: Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights, HSPH Department of Population and International Health

Chair of the HMS Department of Social Medicine
Professor of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Chief of the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

A former director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS unit, Dr. Jim Yong Kim joined the HSPH faculty in 2006 and now heads the Franúois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights (FXB) at HSPH.

Dr. Kim spearheaded the groundbreaking “3×5” program to treat 3 million people in 5 years at WHO. He has 20 years of experience in improving health in developing countries. He is a founding trustee and the former executive director of Partners in Health, a not-for-profit organization that supports a range of health programs in poor communities in Latin America, Russia, Rwanda, and the United States.

An expert in tuberculosis, Dr Kim has chaired or served on a number of committees on international TB policy. He has conducted extensive research into effective and affordable strategies for treating strains of TB that are resistant to standard drugs.

He received the MacArthur Award for his work, along with HMS Professor Paul Farmer, with Partners In Health to lower the cost of treating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis among the poor by 95 percent.

Said the MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Kim’s vision “inspired local communities, world health organizations, political leaders, and pharmaceutical companies to collaborate productively.”

Dr. Kim is a member of the Institute of Medicine. In 2006, he was selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. He was a contributing editor to the 2003 and 2004 World Health Report, and his edited volume Dying for Growth: Global Inequity and the Health of the Poor analyzes the effects of economic and political change on health outcomes in developing countries.

Dr. Kim is trained dually as a physician and medical anthropologist. He received his B.A. (1982) from Brown University, his M.D. (1991) from Harvard Medical School, and his Ph.D. (1993) from Harvard University.

Read the MacArthur Foundation profile of Dr. Kim


Joel Schwartz: 1991

schwartzProfessor of Environmental Epidemiology, HSPH Department of Environmental Health

While working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Joel Schwartz was the first federal employee to receive the MacArthur Award. He was recognized for identifying lead in gasoline as a health risk for millions of people and for supplying enough evidence to ban the chemical in gas in the U.S.

His work tightened federal clean-air standards and improved compliance within industry. In addition to his research into lead, Dr. Schwartz was among the first to link elevated death rates to particulates of sulfur from coal-burning power plants and black carbon from motor-vehicle exhaust. Particulates are minute particles in air pollution that kill at least 100,000 people every year in the United States alone.

Dr. Schwartz has researched the effects of antioxidants on respiratory health, focusing on chronic effects, such as the relationship between dietary intake and level of pulmonary function or symptoms.

He also is examining the use of cost-benefit analysis to make environmental decisions. He has developed methodologies for assessing the benefits of lead control, and has applied those methodologies to the decision to remove lead from gasoline. He also is using cost-benefit analysis in examining air pollution control.

Dr. Schwartz received his Ph.D. (1980) from Brandeis University.


John Cairns: 1981

cairnsHSPH Professor of Microbiology emeritus

Dr. John Cairns is an internationally recognized molecular biologist who provided new insights into the natural history and epidemiology of cancer, as well as the prevention of the disease.

Dr. Cairns was a professor of microbiology in the Department of Cancer Biology at HSPH from 1980 to 1991 (The department no longer exists, but its work continued first in the Department of Cancer Cell Biology and now by the Department of Molecular Metabolism). Dr. Cairns drew attention to the role of environmental factors in cancer development, demonstrating dramatic differences in cancer incidence rates between countries. He emphasized that the majority of common cancers are preventable and worked as an early advocate for improved cancer screening and prevention methods.

Before coming to HSPH, Dr. Cairns was the director of the Mill Hill Laboratories of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, UK. There he was engaged in research on agents that damage DNA in an effort to better understand the role of chemicals in cancer production. He conducted important work with E. coli, describing the bacterium’s ability to become resistant to a specific class of mutagens and demonstrating that this adaptive response results from a system that can repair DNA damage from these mutagens.

From 1963 to 1972, Dr. Cairns was associated with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. He directed the lab and later served there as American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology.

He conducted research in the 1960s that enhanced the understanding of the process by which DNA is renewed and that initiated the use of a groundbreaking visual imaging technique called molecular autoradiography.

Dr. Cairns wrote the seminal book “Cancer: Science and Society,” and a set of essays called “Matters of Life and Death: Perspectives on Public Health, Molecular Biology, Cancer, and the Prospects for the Human Race.”’ He also co-edited a book with James Watson and Gunther Stent called “Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology.”

Dr. Cairns received his B.A. in 1943 and a B.M. and B.Ch. in 1946 from Oxford University. In 1952, he earned his M.D. from Oxford. He was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1967 and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1974. From 1980 to 1982, he was the vice chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on “Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer.”