Danielle Ofri, M.D.

Physician, teacher and writer, Bellevue Hospital
Associate Professor of Medicine, New York University

Award-winning meditations on medicine, healthcare & the human experience.

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Biography

As a physician and teacher at the oldest public hospital in the United States, and as a writer and literary editor, Dr. Danielle Ofri speaks with unique insight into the practice of medicine in America.

She is an attending physician in Bellevue Hospital’s medical clinic, which has been the home of the most extraordinary human stories throughout its long history in the nation’s most diverse and complex city.

In her practice and as an Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University, Dr. Ofri has focused on reaching the real humanity of her patients and on teaching young doctors to how to do the same.

She is medicine's leading proponent of the power of story — and of literature — to teach healthcare providers and to improve the practice of medicine.

With award-winning stories of her experiences as a doctor, she also brings to general audiences first-hand accounts of the joys and challenges of medical practice, rich insights into how the healthcare system works, and poignant reflections on the human condition.

She is the author of several acclaimed books on life in medicine and patient care. Her newest book, What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine explores the hidden emotional world of the doctor and its impact on patient care. Her previous books include Medicine in Translation, Incidental Findings and Singular Intimacies.

Dr. Ofri's writings have been included in Best American Essays 2005 & 2002, and Best American Science Writing 2003. She received the Missouri Review Editor's Prize for nonfiction, and the McGovern award from the American Medical Writers Association.

Books

"A born story-teller and a born physician…"
— Oliver Sacks

In her books and articles, Danielle Ofri has developed a signature style that combines compelling narrative with thoughtful reflection and focused reporting. She focuses on characters, the real people she cares for in her practice and their stories. These she uses to uncover the mysteries of human life and human nature, to explore the joys and problems of modern medical practice, and to ask questions about society's priorities.

Her newest book, What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine explores the hidden emotional world of the doctor and its impact on patient care.

Danielle's previous book, Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients, brings her unique voice and extraordinary perceptiveness to the experience of immigrants in the American medical system. Like her other books, the setting is the medical melting pot of New York City's Bellevue Hospital. This time, the characters are people who face more than just the challenge of their illness. Their languages, their cultures, complicated past, and often their legal status all make their stories more stirring than most.

Her first book, Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue, is regarded as one of the classic accounts of medical school and residency. By focusing on the emotional development of doctors, Ofri gives an insider’s account of what goes on beneath the white coat. With engaging prose and insight, this book distills "the essence of becoming and being a doctor" (New England Journal of Medicine).

Ofri’s second book, Incidental Findings: Lessons From My Patients in the Art of Medicine, is a sophisticated and thoughtful analysis of how doctors learn from patients. Including her own illuminating experiences of being a patient as well as teaching the next generation of doctors, Incidental Findings dissects the complex layers of modern medicine. If you’ve ever wanted to understand the person in whom you entrust your life, this is the book to read. Booklist calls it "An exceptional series of introspective essays." Incidental Findings is frequently used for book discussion groups with the Reader's Guide from Beacon Press.

In The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, Dr. Ofri and her co-editors have assembled a powerful and eloquent collection of poetry, fiction, and essays from The Bellevue Literary Review. An exhaustive study guide has made this anthology popular with students, book groups, and staff development groups. NewPages.com says, "No human thing is more universal than illness, in all its permutations, and no literary publication holds more credibility on the subject than The Bellevue Literary Review."

Credentials

  • Associate Professor of Medicine, New York University
  • Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, Bellevue Literary Review. Editor, The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review.
  • Author, Medicine in Translation, Singular Intimacies and Incidental Findings.
  • Guest columnist, The New York Times' Well blog.
  • Essays and reviews published in The New York Times, New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, The Los Angeles Times, and on NPR.
  • Writings included in Best American Essays 2005 & 2002 and Best American Science Writing 2003.
  • Recipient, the Missouri Review Editor's Prize for nonfiction
  • Recipient, McGovern award from the American Medical Writers Association
  • Associate chief editor of the award-winning textbook The Bellevue Guide to Outpatient Medicine
  • PhD, pharmacology; MD; internist in internal medicine

Books

What Doctors Feel

How Emotions Affect The Practice of Medicine

Danielle Ofri, M.D.

Danielle Ofri’s newest book. A look at the emotional side of medicine–the shame, fear, anger, anxiety, empathy, and even love that impact patient care.

The quality of medical care is influenced by what doctors feel, an aspect of medicine that is usually left out of discussions of health care today. Drawing on scientific studies as well as real life stories from her own medical practice and other physicians, Dr. Danielle Ofri investigates the impact of emotions on medical care.

Contemporary media portrayals of doctors focus on the decision-making and medical techniques, reinforcing an image of rational, unflinching doctors. But while the challenges in medicine are unique, doctors respond with the same emotions as the rest of us — shame, anger, empathy, frustration, hope, pride, occasionally despair and sometimes even love.

With her renown eye for dramatic detail, Dr. Ofri takes us into swirling heart of patient care. She faces the humiliation of an error that nearly killed her patient and the forever fear of making another. She mourns when a long-time patient is denied a heart transplant. She tells the riveting stories of doctors who have faced the death of a newborn in their arms, and have faced the glare of lawyers in the courtroom.

Emotions have a distinct effect on a doctor's behavior and how they care for patients. For doctors, and especially for patients, understanding this can make all the difference in effective medicine.

Beacon Press (June 4, 2013)

Excerpt

When Doctor's Feel Fear

Reviews

Doctor FeelbadThe New York Times
'What Doctors Feel'The Boston Globe

Praise

“An eloquent and honest take on the inner life of medical professionals…eye-opening for the public–and required reading for medical students.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“An invaluable guide for doctors and patients on how to recognize and navigate the emotional subtexts of the doctor-patient relationship.”
— Kirkus Reviews

"The world of patient and doctor exists in a special sacred space. Danielle Ofri brings us into that place where science and the soul meet. Her vivid and moving prose enriches the mind and turns the heart."
— Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think

"Danielle Ofri is a finely gifted writer, a born storyteller as well as a born physician."
— Oliver Sacks, author of Awakenings

"Danielle Ofri … is dogged, perceptive, unafraid, and willing to probe her own motives, as well as those of others. This is what it takes for a good physician to arrive at the truth, and these same qualities make her an essayist of the first order."
— Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"Danielle Ofri has so much to say about the remarkable intimacies between doctor and patient, about the bonds and the barriers, and above all about how doctors come to understand their powers and their limitations."
— Perri Klass, MD, author of A Not Entirely Benign Procedure

"Her writing tumbles forth with color and emotion. She demonstrates an ear for dialogue, a humility about the limits of her medical training, and an extraordinary capacity to be touched by human suffering."
— Jan Gardner, Boston Globe

Intensive Care

A Doctor’s Journey — eBook

Danielle Ofri, M.D.

An eBook Original from Beacon Press.
A journey through the inner world of medicine, via the writings of Danielle Ofri.

This eBook exhibits Danielle Ofri's range and skill as a storyteller as well as her empathy and astuteness as a doctor. Her vivid prose brings the reader into bustling hospitals, tense exam rooms, and Ofri's own life, giving an up-close look at the fast-paced, life-and-death drama of becoming a doctor. She tells of a teenager uncertain of his future who comes to the clinic with a stomach complaint but for whom Dr. Ofri sees that the most useful “treatment” she can offer him is SAT tutoring. She writes of a desperate struggle to communicate with a critically ill patient who only speaks Mandarin, of a doctor whose experience in the NICU leaves her paralyzed with PTSD, and of her own fears of making fatal errors. Through these stories, Intensive Care offers poignant insight into the medical world, and into the hearts and minds of doctors and their patients. These stories are drawn from Ofri's previous books and from her forthcoming book, What Doctors Fees: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine.

Beacon Press (March 5, 2013)

Medicine in Translation

Journeys with My Patients

Danielle Ofri, M.D.

For fifteen years, Dr. Danielle Ofri has cared for patients at Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in the country and a crossroads for the world's cultures. Many of her patients have braved language barriers, religious and racial divides, and the emotional and practical difficulties of exile to access quality health care. Ofri offers us moving and vivid portraits of these people: of Juan Moreno, who spent his boyhood working in Puerto Rico's sugarcane fields to support his family; of Samuel Nwanko, who was attacked with acid by a local Nigerian cult; of Xui-Ping Liang, whose three-week vacation from China turned into a five-year stay after her cancer was discovered. We hear about a young Guatemalan woman who will die without a heart transplant but can't get one because she's undocumented, and of a Muslim girl attacked at knifepoint for wearing her veil.

Combining personal narrative, reflection, and reporting, Ofri's stories speak poignantly about the challenges facing immigrants and Americans in the U.S. health-care system. Through Medicine in Translation, we learn about the American way, in sickness and in health.

Beacon (Jan 1, 2010)

Video

Medicine in Translation trailer

Review

Book ReviewThe Washington Post

The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review

Danielle Ofri (Editor)

Founded just six years ago, Bellevue Literary Review is already widely recognized as a rare forum for emerging and celebrated writers — among them Julia Alvarez, Raphael Campo, Rick Moody, and Abraham Verghese — on issues of health and healing. Gathered here are poignant and prizewinning stories, essays, and poems, the voices of patients and those who care for them, which form the journal's remarkable dialogue on "humanity and the human experience."

Bellevue Literary Press; 1 edition (February 1, 2008)

Incidental Findings

Lessons from My Patients in the Art of Medicine

Danielle Ofri, M.D.

In Singular Intimacies, which the New England Journal of Medicine said captured the "essence of becoming and being a doctor," Danielle Ofri led us into the hectic, constantly challenging world of big-city medicine. In Incidental Findings, she’s finished her training and is learning through practice to become a more rounded healer. The book opens with a dramatic tale of the tables being turned on Dr. Ofri: She’s had to shed the precious white coat and credentials she worked so hard to earn and enter her own hospital as a patient. She experiences the real "slight prick and pressure" of a long needle as well as the very real sense of invasion and panic that routinely visits her patients.

These fifteen intertwined tales include "Living Will," where Dr. Ofri treats a man who has lost the will to live, and she too comes dangerously close to concluding that he has nothing to live for; "Common Ground," in which a patient"s difficult decision to have an abortion highlights the vulnerabilities of doctor and patient alike; "Acne," where she is confronted by a patient whose physical and emotional abuse she can"t possibly heal, so she must settle on treating the one thing she can, the least of her patient"s problems; and finally a stunning concluding chapter, "Tools of the Trade," where Dr. Ofri"s touch is the last in a woman"s long life.

Beacon Press; Reprint edition (April 15, 2006)
Beacon Press; 1 edition (April 2005)

Singular Intimacies

Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue

Danielle Ofri, M.D.

In the tradition of Abraham Verghese and Atul Gawande, a gripping memoir of learning medicine in the trenches.

Singular Intimacies is the story of becoming a doctor by immersion at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the country — and perhaps the most legendary. It is both the classic inner-city hospital and a unique amalgam of history, insanity, beauty, and intellect. When Danielle Ofri enters these 250-year-old doors as a tentative medical student, she is immediately plunged into the teeming world of urban medicine: mysterious illnesses, life-and-death decisions, patients speaking any one of a dozen languages, overworked interns devising creative strategies to cope with the feverish intensity of a big-city hospital.

Yet the emphasis of Singular Intimacies is not so much on the arduous hours in medical training (which certainly exist here), but on the evolution of an instinct for healing. In a hospital without the luxury of private physicians, where patients lack resources both financial and societal, where poverty and social strife are as much a part of the pathology as any microbe, it is the medical students and interns who are thrust into the searing intimacy that is the doctor-patient relationship. In each memorable chapter, Ofri"s progress toward becoming an experienced healer introduces not just a patient in medical crisis, but a human being with an intricate and compelling history. Ofri learns to navigate the tangled vulnerabilities of doctor and patient, not simply battle the disease.

Dr. Danielle Ofri is an attending physician in the medical clinic at Bellevue, with an academic appointment at NYU. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, and her essays have been published in over a dozen literary and medical journals; one chapter of this book was selected by Stephen Jay Gould for The Best American Essays of 2002 and received the Missouri Review Editor"s Prize for Nonfiction. She is also associate chief editor of the award-winning textbook The Bellevue Guide to Outpatient Medicine.

Beacon Press; Reprint edition (April 1, 2009)
Beacon Press; 1 edition (April 15, 2003)

Topics

Danielle tailors each presentation to the needs of her audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest her range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Patient Safety and the Human Condition

Patient safety is a critical issue in medicine today. There is, rightly, a strong emphasis on systems approaches to improving medical care and decreasing error. However, medicine is fundamentally a human endeavor, and in the end it is people, not systems, who cause medical errors. Without attention to the human aspects of the medical enterprise — emotions, respect, relationships — crucial aspects of patient safety will remain beyond our grasp.

Surviving Medicine in the 21st Century

Disillusionment in medicine feels like it is reaching epidemic proportions. Doctors and nurses say they would never choose the field if they had to do it all over again. Medical error and burnout seem to be everywhere. But it might be too soon to close the book on the medical profession. This presentation examines the impact of disillusionment, highlighting strategies for re-engaging caregivers, combating burnout, and thriving in the new era of medicine.

The Amygdala and the Stethoscope: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine

Despite our commitment to the scientific method, doctors are not nearly as rational and evidence-based as we tell ourselves that we are. Emotions permeate our clinical decision-making, whether we choose to acknowledge this or not. The presentation offers an unflinching look at the how emotions affect doctors and the medical care they are able to give their patients.

Multiculturalism and Diversity

Like all areas in our culture, medicine faces many challenges in our multicultural society. Stereotypes can subtly undermine medicine's commitment to patient care. With a candid assessment of how biases infiltrate medicine, this presentation focuses on creative ways to bridge cultural gaps.

Why Should Lawyers Care What Doctors Feel?

Lawyers tend to meet up with doctors only in the charged setting of medical malpractice, when doctors are radically changed from their usual selves. Geared towards risk managers, this presentation examines the how doctors commit errors, hide errors, and alter their medical practice because of errors. It digs deep into the harrowing experiences of physicians who’ve experienced medical error and malpractice suits, illuminating the powerful emotional challenges to all who are involved.

Technology in Medicine

Technology is transforming medicine at a breathless pace. From computerized treatment algorithms to electronic medical records, every aspect of medicine has been refashioned by the digital revolution. What is the impact of this ongoing metamorphosis? How has the doctor-patient relationship been altered? This presentation digs beneath the technology to examine how doctors and patients can still connect.

Medical Error and the Ethics of Apology

As evidence mounts about the human cost of medical error, society is scrambling to find ways to contain this “epidemic.” At the heart of the issue is how to coax a culture of secrecy and guilt into the light. Do doctors and nurses have the capacity within themselves to come forward and admit these errors? This presentation explores how medical personnel face the delicate issue of apologizing to a patient.

Why Would Anyone Become a Doctor?

Medicine is increasingly portrayed as a field that no one in their right mind would consider: the debt burden for medical students is gargantuan, regulations strangulate the practice of good medicine, litigious patients lurk in every corner, doctors are disillusioned in droves. Is this all really true? This presentation is geared toward an undergraduate and general audience, examining the current state of medicine, focusing on what it really means to be a doctor today, and why some of us wouldn’t give it up for the world.

Bringing Back the Humanity to Medicine

Despite enormous advances in healthcare, patients and doctors alike are dissatisfied with their experience. Seeking inspiration from the gripping narratives of urban medicine to the unlikely poetry of the ICU, this presentation probes the most fundamental aspect of medical care — how doctors and patients connect.

Medical Professionalism

Professionalism is a hot-button issue in the medical world. As the field comes under assault from all corners, health care workers can feel besieged and demoralized. Seeking inspiration from Chekhov, Sports Illustrated, and the legions of patients in a doctor’s life, this presentation strives to help physicians — especially those in training — avoid becoming ungrounded and losing their sense of self. An unusual look at medical professionalism.

Doctor-Writers: An Epidemic?

More than any other field, medicine seems to inspire writing. Doctor-writers seem to be everywhere these days, giving rise to a new set of ethical dilemmas. This presentation illuminates the inherent connections between story-telling and medicine in a way that is accessible to a wide-ranging audience.

Videos

Bringing the Humanity Back to Medicine

Feedback

A top United States medical university:
Your presentation was WONDERFUL! You truly are a great storyteller (I knew that to be true through your writing, but you are a magnificent oral storyteller as well). I admired your authenticity and transparency in modeling how our own hidden biases and prejudices can be brought into the light of day and illuminated. What moving and hopeful stories these were...the people I saw were engrossed and engaged. You inspired those doctors to know themselves, so that they could know their patients.

A state medical association:
On behalf of the […] Medical Association, thank you for giving such a powerful keynote presentation at our Practice Management Symposium. The way you used stories from your book Incidental Findings to relate the impact of illness on us as individuals and health care professionals was engaging and thought provoking. I think it made us all curious about the personal connection we have with our patients (and colleagues) and how that connection has healing power.

Your presentation met everyone’s expectations, and in fact, 43 percent indicated you exceeded their expectations in regards to the value of the information to them, and 98% indicated they would be able to apply this to their job. "Great speaker, very engaging," "Interesting and uplifting," "Brought us to reality in a humorous way," and "Thanks for reintroducing the power of touch" were just a few of the comments received.

As a side note...from a meeting planner’s prospective, I must comment on what a pleasure it was work with you. You were so responsive to each and every request. Thank you!

A medical association:
Dr. Ofri was such a delight to work with and she did a fantastic job at our Symposium. We had more than 225 people there, about 60 physicians, and she captivated the audience. They were very attentive, they were hanging onto her words, she was just very profound, very sincere. She just did a very nice job. We sold all of her books. From a meeting planner's perspective, you've been great to work with, but also she's been a dream — very responsive, professional, approachable, down to earth. As a person I really enjoyed her. Thank you so much for the suggestion.

A major health insurance company:
Excellent. Dr. Ofri as the last speaker was perfectly planned! Thought the first and last presentations were excellent - great speaker to end with.

Dr. Ofri was truly fascinating and informative. Closing speaker perfect.