Sheri Fink: You Better Believe She’s a Cool Customer
Don’t think we’re kidding when we call Ms. Fink cool. Our bad, it’s Dr. Fink (M.D. and Ph.D.). It’s the same Sheri Fink who was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting for her watchdog journalism; and who has filed stories from six of the seven continents. Oh, and she was also named one of the 20 smartest people of 2010 by the website The Daily Beast. It’s the Sheri Fink you may have known growing up; the one who graduated from Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills back in 1986. Yep, she’s cool.
RT: Of all the places you have reported from, which stands out as the most memorable and why?
SF: Bosnia-Herzegovina is the most memorable because it was the first. Trying to understand the war there in the 1990s and the roles medical professionals played in it was what turned me onto journalism.
RT: At what point did you realize you didn’t want to practice medicine? Was there a trigger?
SF: I fell in love with reporting, but it took several years to realize I didn’t want to try to combine the two careers. What cinched it was the thought of being a doctor who was only half-focused on learning a specialty and practicing medicine. Would I want someone like that treating me or my family members? Definitely not! I convinced myself that bringing a deeper understanding of medicine, health and science to the public was a worthwhile use of my medical degree.
RT: As a journalist, there isn’t much greater recognition than being awarded a Pulitzer Prize: What was that moment like?
SF: Literally unbelievable. Everyone in the ProPublica newsroom was cheering and drinking champagne because it was the first time a Pulitzer Prize went to a reporter at a Web-based news organization. Then there was that strange feeling of being recognized for work about really terrible events.
RT: It was your reporting of events that unfolded in a hurricane-ravaged New Orleans hospital that garnered you so many awards, including a National Magazine Award. What did the recognition mean to you — as a reporter?
SF: The awards validated the many months of work that went into the story [The Deadly Choices at Memorial; ProPublica.org; August 27, 2009]. Disasters can strike any time, and hospitals are a vital part of our infrastructure. The awards brought more attention to the need to be prepared on an individual and organizational level for disasters. They also opened up a discussion about difficult subjects like allocating healthcare, end of life decision-making and hastening deaths in the context of disasters — issues that could affect any of us at a time of crisis, but are rarely discussed outside of medical circles.
RT: When you told your parents that you weren’t going to practice medicine, what was their reaction?
SF: Let’s just say it took them some time to come around! They were ultimately very supportive. My father is the longtime attorney for the Detroit Free Press and a former Detroit News reporter. He loves the news business and is still a journalist at heart. I could tell there was a part of him that was secretly delighted.
RT: Do you ever think about retiring from investigative work to do something a little less risky, like write children’s books?
SF: I sometimes joke that my next book will be about wedding cakes—or something equally light and fluffy.
RT: What’s one of the 20 smartest people of 2010 eat for breakfast?
SF: Wheaties and bourbon. Well, maybe just Wheaties.