Sheri Fink is a medical doctor and an accomplished investigative journalist. Her work on health, medicine and science has been published in The New York Times, Discover and Scientific American. She has won numerous awards and has taught courses at Harvard and Tulane.
In 2010, Fink was awarded a Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Pulitzer Prize for her investigative article, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” published in The New York Times Magazine in collaboration with ProPublica. The in-depth feature focuses on the morbid options faced at a New Orleans hospital during the days following Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s humbling and gratifying after having worked on a story for a long time and having focused on the larger issues behind those events,” Fink said. “That kind of recognition brings more attention to the story and the issues it raises, and as journalists our work is more relevant when more people read, watch and listen to it.”
Fink’s life has been marked by a passion for journalism and the human condition. Her love for the profession comes from a lifetime heritage as rich as SPJ’s own history. Fink is the daughter of Herschel Fink, a former Detroit News reporter turned media attorney for the Detroit Free Press.
Talk of media advocacy and courtroom proceedings were a staple conversation around the family dinner table. She went several times to her father’s media law classes at Wayne State University as well as editorial meetings at the Detroit Free Press.
“My dad has represented various entertainers and rap artists, including Dr. Dre, whose First Amendment rights were being threatened,” Fink said. “It was funny because my dad is a fan of classical chamber music.”
What is more unique to their family legacy is that her father was a member of the Sigma Delta Chi journalism fraternity (SPJ’s founding name) at Wayne State University. During his courtship with Sheri’s mother, Annette, Herschel had a loop added to the top of his SDX fraternity pin and gave it to Annette as a necklace.
Annette died in 2001. After Sheri received the Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing last year, the same year Herschel received the SPJ First Amendment Award for fighting for journalists’ rights, Herschel felt it was important to, in turn, give the necklace to Sheri.
“It was so meaningful on so many different levels,” Fink said. “It symbolized the tradition of journalism in our family and the legacy of my parents’ relationship. As a daughter it is such a gift to have a father who is proud of you, especially as a (medical) doctor who left the field for journalism.”
During her last year in medical school, Fink participated in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s mass media fellowship that places budding scientists into nationwide newsrooms as summer interns and gives them a crash course in journalism practice, ethics and culture. One goal of the program is to improve the quality of science journalism and public understanding of science, but many of its participants turn to journalism as a profession.
“I fell in love with reporting during the program and slowly decided that it would be my career,” Fink said.
Growing up in a news-centric household also taught Fink the critical value of investigative reporting and the resources it takes.
“I think that is one thing that’s endangered in this day and age with the crisis in the business model of journalism,” Fink said. “However the news media adapts financially, it is important for news organizations in the future to prioritize this type of reporting.”
Aside from her work as an investigative reporter, Fink has worked in the past with humanitarian aid efforts in the U.S. and overseas. She was a Kaiser Media Fellow in Health Reporting and a former Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Fink graduated from the University of Michigan and received Ph.D. and M.D. degrees from Stanford University. Her book, “War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival,” also won the American Medical Writers Association special book award.