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Dr. Francesca Ortenzio

Dr. Francesca Ortenzio ‘97 attended Trinity High School and went on to Sarah Lawrence College. After receiving a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence, Francesca pursued her medical degree at Stony Book University School of Medicine. During her medical training, she served as a Rockefeller University Research Fellow as a recipient of the NIH-CTSA Grant. Following an intern year of internal medicine, Francesca completed a residency in Dermatology at University of California, Irvine.

Inspired by the interdisciplinary nature of her VCS education, Francesca continues to look for the interconnectivity and synergism between different subjects, using her background in fine art and the humanities to inform her work in science and medicine. Today, she works as a dermatologist in private practice in Manhattan, and remains committed to allowing her varied interests – science, art, literature, medicine, food, agriculture – to intersect.

VCS: What did you find useful or productive about engaging in the process of applying to high school as an 8th Grader?

FO: A lot of life skills are gained during the high school application process and VCS helped foster those skills and gave me the confidence to present myself as myself in a new environment.

VCS: Were there any internships, work experiences or study abroad programs that made a particular impact on you?

FO: During a summer while in high school, I went to Amherst College for a Sculpture intensive. Being surrounded by other individuals who were as passionate as I was created an energy that really inspired me. I experienced synergism and created large-scale works that would have logistically been nearly impossible for me to create in any other forum at that time.   

Before medical school I went to Kathmandu, Nepal for a few months to help establish a sustainable physical therapy in an orphanage for disabled children…I had the privilege of working every day with children who were the strongest, most resilient people I have ever met. It is truly a privilege when people who speak a different language, lead very different lives, under different conditions than ours, “let us in.” I think VCS taught me a great deal about how to respectfully, gracefully and humbly be present and be of service. 

While I was in medical school, I was awarded an NIH-CTSA award research grant in inflammatory skin diseases. I fulfilled this grant at the Rockefeller University in Manhattan during a yearlong research fellowship. Spending time at Rockefeller, where the interactions between scientists across diverse fields was encouraged, further demonstrated to me the value of an interdisciplinary education at all levels.

VCS: What does a typical work day look like for you?

FO: I see patients starting in the morning until early evening. I see patients for complex medical problems, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, aesthetic procedures and a myriad of other skin concerns. Every day, my job requires a multitude of different procedures as well as examinations and treatment management.

VCS: What do you enjoy most about your work?

FO: I love being able to help people live healthy lives and feel like the best versions of themselves. I see every day how when people feel good about themselves and healthy it radiates positively to all other aspects of their lives. Also, I find what I do endlessly fascinating. Dermatology is ever-evolving and involves science with medicine and art and beauty.

VCS: Tell me a little about your current family situation. Where do you live? What do you love about it?

FO: My husband and I live in Westchester County. He is an orthopedic surgeon, we met during medical school. We absolutely love where we live. We love that we are on the water and grow our own food in our own garden. We are also within five minutes of amazing farmers markets, which was important to us in choosing where to live. We have wonderful relationships with the farmers who supply us with food. Eating seasonally and having these relationships with our suppliers is really gratifying. 

VCS: What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

FO: I definitely express myself and my creativity in cooking and in the garden. I let the seasonal aspect of locally grown food be the deciding factor on ingredients. 

I like to draw and paint. These activities allow for reflection on other areas of my life. Same as gardening. I love watching the seeds I plant grow into the produce that we eat. It is amazing.

VCS: Tell me a little about any volunteering or activism you’re pursuing. Why is that work important to you?

FO: Recently, I have been involved in volunteering in animal shelters. I think it’s very important to not “look away” when we see something that doesn’t sit right with us. I think it’s important to look at the situation head-on and say “how can I be a part of the solution.”

For almost 15 years I have volunteered in various different free clinics on weekends, offering care to uninsured people or to those who are simply in need. 

I also have steadily participated in mentorship. I have had incredible mentors throughout my training and career and I find it very fulfilling to be a part of another person’s journey by offering my support and mentorship. 

VCS: What are some of your fondest memories from VCS? 

FO: The most joyous time of year was the Book Fair. I always loved the Book Fair. It was a visual spectacle! To see so many beautiful book covers all on display was very exciting. It was like our own bookstore. 

VCS: What school traditions stand out in your memory?
FO: I think the tradition that stands out most is actually a very general one, it is singing. Song and music were such a big part of how we expressed ourselves. I remember when a beloved teacher passed away we sang his favorite Beatles song at his memorial and it felt cathartic and healing.

VCS: What is something about VCS that you hope will never change? 

FO: I really hope the culture that fosters curiosity and kindness continues. I think VCS encourages very sophisticated social skills and engages children in a way that encourages immense personal development. Since the classroom is a microcosm of the world, I think the team approach VCS encourages is a great boon to the individual student but also to their future classmates, coworkers, etc.

VCS: In one sentence, what would you say your VCS education did for you? 

FO: VCS fostered my sense of curiosity, encouraged me to follow all of my interests regardless of how disparate they seemed, because everything is indeed connected.