Dr. Sheri Fink Brought the Lessons of Katrina to Pittsburgh

On the night of March 2, 2015, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Sheri Fink lecture in Pittsburgh, my hometown. To all in the field of catastrophic health event preparedness, hers is a household name as her unmatched effort to understand the crisis in the healthcare facilities of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina can be thought of as no less than foundational for the entire field—quiet an achievement.

What Dr. Fink’s work does is concretize what the term “crisis standards of care” is all about. Indeed, the events depicted in her book Five Days at Memorial (which I discussed in a prior post) illustrate exactly what happens when these standards are not in place and ad hoc decision-making becomes the norm and a DNR order is translated to mean “do not rescue”.

That we have now developed these standards and that these discussions are not taboo are thanks to Dr. Fink’s diligent work.

What I loved most about her lecture and found quite inspiring, apart from the content, is the fact that this was a physician-turned-journalist exemplifying all the best aspects of medicine. Her inquisitiveness, her passion for her work, and her ability to translate abstract concepts into concretes (to wit, she wrote a piece for inclusion on Chipotle bags about these topics) are all attributes of the best physicians and something to emulate. Her lecture had the all to infrequent attribute of being able to equally appeal to both the physicians in the audience and to the general public alike.

To hear such a renowned voice, who often references Aristotle, discuss topics such as hospital preparedness, crisis standards of care, Ebola, and a battle field hospital anywhere—let alone in the comfort of my hometown—was a rare treat.