8 Questions with… Dr. Danielle Ofri

“8 Questions with…” is a Gold Foundation series spotlighting members of the Gold community – doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals of all kinds, students, corporate and hospital leaders, patients, family members, Trustees, staff members, and supporters.

We are delighted to introduce you to Dr. Danielle Ofri, who is one of the foremost voices in the medical world today, speaking passionately about the doctor-patient relationship and bringing humanity back to healthcare.

Dr. Ofri is a practicing physician at Bellevue Hospital and is a clinical professor of medicine at NYU. She is a founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning Bellevue Literary Review. Her writing appears in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Slate Magazine, The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, as well as in Best American Essays and Best American Science Writing. She has performed stories for the Moth and her TED talks include “Deconstructing Perfection” and “Fear: A Necessary Emotion.” A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Humanism in Medicine Medal from the Gold Foundation, and an honorary doctorate of letters, Dr. Ofri is the author of six books about life in medicine. Her newest book is When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error.

Dr. Ofri will be one of the featured speakers at the 2024 Gold Humanism Summit: The Person in Front of You. Learn more and register.

What drew you into healthcare?

I had a dog growing up and always wanted to be a vet. Somewhere along the line, my quadruped interest morphed into caring for bipeds. In college, I fell in love with science and went the MD/PhD route with a plan to become a bench researcher. But during internship, I fell in love with the stories of my patients, and so I ended up in primary care. (Haven’t looked back since!)

What is one book you’d recommend to patients, or to future doctors or nurses?

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Behind every person you encounter is a story. There is a family and a history and unending moments of drama big and small. If you take the time to dig into it, you’ll never be disappointed.

What’s one small way you bring humanism into your daily life?

No matter how crazy the day is, or how much clinic work (or BLR work) is piled up, I always make sure to take time for cello practice. I’ve been taking lessons for 17 years now, slowly working my way up from Suzuki books to the major repertoire. The Bach cello suites force my brain to work as hard and as intricately as anything in medicine, but without the life and death stakes. It’s like working out at the gym, but for your brain and soul. The Brahms cello sonata that I’m working on allows for an emotional freefall that is relentlessly intense.

What do you think is the most urgent threat to humanism in healthcare?

The corporatization of medicine works against the humanistic impulse. The pressure to commoditize and to “deliver” healthcare feels more akin to working in a fast-food joint. Maybe I’m being naïve here, but the minute there is a profit motive in medicine, the priorities get jumbled in a way that does not serve patients—or those who care for them—well.

What’s one of your daily ways to care for your well-being?

Every morning, without fail, I make a big mug of coffee and read the front section of the New York Times (print edition!) beginning to end. The smell of newsprint and coffee should be a patented anxiolytic.

What is one of your favorite quotes?

From John Stone’s poem/commencement address to medical students (“Gaudeamus Igitur“):

For this is the end of examinations
For this is the beginning of testing
For Death will give the final examination
and everyone will pass

What are you currently reading?

Lajja (Shame) by Taslima Nasrin

What is one thing that the Gold community would be most surprised to learn about you?

I had a pet ferret during medical school. His name was Eli Weasel.


Connect with Dr. Ofri on LinkedInIf you have suggestions for someone we should spotlight, please email Irene Zampetoulas at izampetoulas@gold-foundation.org.

Read more interviews in the “8 Questions with ….” series.

Gold Foundation Staff