How doctor-author Sheri Fink joined the battle to save lives in the world's turbulent hot spots.
Special to the Jewish News
r. Sheri Fink, in nighttime Baghdad last
month, moved along a rooftop to get a
clear cell phone connection to Michigan.
She wanted to wish her father, Detroit
attorney Herschel Fink, a happy birthday.
They had lots to talk about. There would be the
latest news coming from her work as a doctor for
the International Medical Corps (IMC), a nonprof-
it, non-governmental aid organization helping
restore health care in Iraq. There also would be news
about her book, War Hospital: A True Story of
Surgery and Survival (PublicAffairs; $27.50, release
date Aug. 12), which recounts the experiences of
other war-zone doctors serving in Bosnia in the
Daughter and dad were just starting their conver-
sation when the sounds of sniper fire could be heard
behind her voice. Soon, the satellite connection was
"I'm so used to Sheri that I didn't even worry
about it," says Herschel Fink, whose daughter has
had similar assignments along the Kosovo-
Macedonia border (in the former Yugoslavia), in
Afghanistan and throughout other distant locales.
"I just hope that she is careful when going to these
places and doesn't take unnecessary risks."
Getting used to Dr. Fink's interest in war zones
has been almost a five-year process. Since graduat-
ing from the Stanford University School of
Medicine in 1999, with a doctorate degree in neu-
roscience earned simultaneously, Dr. Fink has trav-
eled to some of the world's most treacherous hot
spots to administer medical care.
"I never planned not to practice medicine in a
regular way, but when I got involved with the histo-
ry of a hospital in Bosnia, it took me in a different
direction," says Dr. Fink, 34, whose specialty inter-
est has been neurology.
"I was never an extremely brave or risk-taking
person, but I've gotten more used to risky situa-
tions. I have the attitude that it doesn't make sense
to be consumed with fear because then I can't func-
Dr. Fink, who didn't decide to become a doctor
until doing her undergraduate work at the
University of Michigan, became intensely interested
in war-zone medicine during her senior year at
Stanford. She attended an international conference
on medicine and war in Bosnia (also part of the for-
mer Yugoslavia) and that led to her receiving a year-
long study grant to learn more about the Bosnian
issues after graduation.
Dr. Fink's research introduced her to a deserted
hospital in the city of Srebrenica, where Muslims
had been besieged by Serbian forces. In July 1995,
Bosnian Serb forces murdered an estimated 8,000
Bosnian Muslims there.
She learned how doctors working in that hospital
had saved countless lives without adequate staff,
supplies and day-to-day necessities. She also learned
how the pressure of working with seemingly endless
rounds of patients affected them personally.
It soon became apparent to her that the workings
of this hospital would make for a very dramatic
book. Her idea took four years to develop, and it
was based on interviews and relevant documents.
"I came upon the story of the doctors of
Srebrenica early on, and it just captured the issues
that I found so interesting," says Dr. Fink, who lives
in New York City and will return to the Detroit area
to speak about her experiences at this fall's Jewish
Book Fair at the Jewish Community Center.
"The doctors were very compelling as regular peo-
ple stuck in very extreme circumstances and rising to
the occasion in very different ways. Each place I vis-
ited in Bosnia had aspects of the Srebrenica story,
but none had all of these things in one place."
A Personal Approach
While Dr. Fink's book confronts the monumental
problems of treatment common to hospitals in war
zones, it also probes the personalities and back-
grounds that individualize the people being
described, including doctors from the area and doc-
tors from other countries entering the war zone sim-
ply because they were desperately needed.
The personal approach, she believes, increases the
understanding of the ethical, moral and human
issues that had to be faced minute-by-minute —
treating conditions without direct training in those
conditions, operating without anesthesia and work-
ing without basic utilities.
As Dr. Fink began planning her book, she also
began working in war zones. During her grant time
in Bosnia, war broke out in Kosovo, and she was
asked by a group, Physicians for Human Rights, to
Dr. Sheri Fink examines an Iraqi patient after the recent war.