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Cindy Wool Seminar to focus on doctor-patient conversations

Dr. Danielle Ofri, M.D.

The 10th Annual Cindy Wool Memorial Seminar on Humanism in Healthcare, honoring a decade of encouraging compassionate care, will be held next month. Dr. Danielle Ofri, an internist, acclaimed author and one of the foremost speakers about the doctor-patient relationship, will discuss the topic of her latest book, “What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear,” also the title of her latest book.

“Patients and health professionals alike are dissatisfied with most medical encounters,” Ofri told the AJP. “But they typically attribute this to the time crunch rather than to communication. Partly, this is because we mostly think of communication as ‘bedside manner.’ One of the reasons I wrote ‘What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear’ is to emphasize that the conversation between the patient and health professional is the single most powerful tool in medicine — bar none — and that we need to give it its due. Doctors have to make sure they focus on it and patients have to expect it — or even demand it, if necessary.”

The event honors Cindy Wool, the wife of Dr. Steven A. Wool, who died in 2008 at age 54 from acute lymphocytic leukemia. Her memorial promotes compassionate and empathic relationships between patients and their caregivers. The event on Monday, March 25 is co-sponsored by the Maimonides Society of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

The seminar has 10 years of longevity, which is amazing, says Nancy Koff, Ph.D., this year’s seminar co-chair, along with Steven Wool and Dr. Hillel Z. Baldwin. Koff is a former senior associate dean for medical student education at the UA College of Medicine. “This is a special program for the 10th anniversary for a lot of reasons. To my knowledge, this is the only community-based seminar focused on enhancing compassionate care. Some prominent medical schools and foundations offer this opportunity but to have it based in the Federation and community is remarkable.” Most participants are community-based caregivers, which also makes it unique, she adds. “And, the connection with the College of Medicine and Health Sciences Center is wonderful. We honor that.”

As a physician practicing at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, Ofri speaks with the authenticity of direct engagement on the front lines of medical care. On a daily basis, she confronts the major medical issues of our time without losing focus on the individual patient. Ofri’s unique voice and perceptiveness help unravel the complex layers of modern medicine. An amateur cellist, Ofri sees a link between music and medicine.

“One thing about the cello — and all stringed instruments — is that there is no marking for the notes, as you have for a piano or flute. You can only tell you have the right note by listening intently until you know,” Ofri says. “You have to ‘squint’ with your ears. To me, there is a strong parallel to medicine. Patients don’t walk in the door with their diagnoses pinned on their shirts. We have to’“squint’ to listen intently to our patients to figure out what is wrong and also to offer the compassion that is so crucial for healing.”

Ofri writes regularly for the New York Times about medicine and the critical connection between doctor and patient. Her previous books include “Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue,” “What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine,” and “Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients.”

Special recognition this year will go to Dr. Sandra Gold, the seminar’s founding speaker. With her late husband, Dr. Arnold Gold, she is co-founder of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, whose programs such as the White Coat Ceremony and Solidarity Day for Compassionate Care promote health care professional-patient relationships based on caring, personalization, and mutual respect.
“Ofri’s first book was so compelling. It is the seminal piece for me of how it feels to be a physician and serve an underserved population; how they maintain compassion and their mission to care,” says Koff.

At noon on March 25, Ofri will deliver a special lecture for the Arizona Health Sciences Center on campus, “A Singular Intimacy: Connecting the Bridge Between Healthcare Professionals and Patients.” It is free and open to health sciences students, faculty and professionals on the UA campus. The Medical Humanities Program will provide box lunches. To register, contact emelamed@email.arizona.edu.

The evening seminar begins with a cocktail reception at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m., at the Tucson Marriott University Park Hotel, 880 E. Second St. VIP reception tickets are $100. The keynote address is at 7 p.m.

Participants can opt for the seminar with coffee and dessert for $18. Medical students may attend at no cost. For tickets, visit www.jfsa.org/cindy-wool or call 647-8468.