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NWC News Desk

New York physician and writer Danielle Ofri is 2009 Wasden Memorial Reader Thursday, Oct. 8

Posted September 30, 2009
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POWELL, Wyo. - The Northwest College Writers Series kicks off its 2009-10 year Thursday, Oct. 8, with Danielle Ofri, a physician and teacher at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, the oldest public hospital in the United States. Ofri presents the second annual Winifred S. Wasden Memorial Reading at 7:30 p.m. in the Rendezvous Lounge of the DeWitt Student Center. The doors will open at 7 p.m. for book sales, appetizers and an advance opportunity to talk with the author.

Ofri is the first of the four writers in this year's line-up who claim as their day job a career other than writing. As a physician and assistant professor of medicine at New York University, Ofri explores the power of story-and of literature-in understanding patients and in helping healthcare providers improve the practice of medicine.

"The gathering of the patient's story is really the essence of medicine," Ofri says. "Narrative and poetry are as much the tools of medicine as the stethoscope or the MRI. To effect healing, we must interpret our patients' metaphors."

Oliver Sacks, the British neurologist whose book "Awakenings" was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film of the same name, calls Ofri "a born storyteller and a born physician."

Ofri focuses on reaching the humanity of her patients and on teaching young doctors how to do the same. She actively seeks out her patients' stories to help bridge the gap between their cultures, experiences, languages and hers. Stressing the need for doctors and patients to connect as individuals, she repositions new medical technology into a larger context of the whole.

Her stories and insights find voice in her books and essays. 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.

Her second book, "Incidental Findings: Lessons From My Patients in the Art of Medicine," is a thoughtful analysis of how doctors learn from patients. She explores the complex layers of modern medicine, including her own illuminating experiences as a patient and her experience in teaching the next generation of doctors. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, this book distills "the essence of becoming and being a doctor."

Her third major work, "Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients," is due out in January 2010. It addresses issues surrounding immigrants in the American medical system.

In addition to her personal writing, Ofri also co-founded and is editor of the Bellevue Literary Journal, the first literary journal published by a hospital. On its pages, readers find essays, fiction and poetry that celebrate patients as people and medicine as the art of healing the whole person. An exhaustive study guide has made the Best of the Bellevue Literary Review anthology popular with students, book groups and staff development groups.

Ofri's writings have also appeared in Best American Essays 2002 and 2005, and Best American Science Writing 2003. She has received both the Missouri Review Editor's Prize and the McGovern award.

Ofri was selected by the NWC Writers Series to give the 2009 Winifred S. Wasden Memorial Reading, a tradition that began last year as a celebration of the life of the longtime English professor for whom it's named. A reception will follow Ofri's reading.