MD Students: The 2014 Healer’s Art Course

At UNC, the Healer’s Art is a 15-hour elective taught in 5 evening sessions over an eight week time span. It is a process-based curriculum that enables the formation of a community of inquiry between students and faculty. Students who wish to be part of this year’s Healer’s Art Course at UNC should contact Dr. Robert Gwyther. Up to 50 students are accepted on a first come, first accepted basis.

The Healer’s Art is a Year I and II course, the curriculum for which was designed by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., Director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness at Commonweal, and Professor of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF School of Medicine.  Dr. Remen is the author of numerous books and publications, including Kitchen Table Wisdom, My Grandfather’s Blessings and many others.  The course was first taught at UCSF in 1992.  Since then, it has spread around the country and is now being taught at more than 70 medical schools in the USA and in 7 other countries.  It was first taught at UNC in 2006.  The Healer’s Art course was featured in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Graduate Schools” issue for 2002 as an example of excellence in medical education.

Dr. Remen’s motive for developing the course was to address her concern that medicine is growing away from its foundation of service to patients.  The course addresses a hidden crisis in medicine – the growing loss of meaning and commitment experienced by physicians nationwide under the stresses of today’s health-care system.  Many studies have shown that students entering medical school possess the highest levels of enthusiasm and optimism that they ever experience as members of the medical profession.  The Healer’s Art Course can “stress-proof students” and help you to sustain satisfaction in your chosen profession.

At UNC, the Healer’s Art is a 15-hour elective taught in 5 evening sessions over an eight week time span.  It is a process-based curriculum that enables the formation of a community of inquiry between students and faculty.  It takes a highly innovative, interactive, contemplative and didactic approach to enabling students to perceive the personal and universal meaning in their daily experience of medicine.  The course’s innovative education strategy is based on a “discovery model”, and draws on tested approaches and theories from such fields as humanistic psychology, formational theory, and cognitive and Jungian psychology.

The course brings together two mutually supportive learning communities, first-and second-year medical students, and practicing and teaching physicians, in a model that encourages honest and mutually respectful sharing of experience, beliefs and personal truths.  In the discovery model, there are no experts, no right answers and it is acceptable “not to know”.  The wisdom in the collective life experience of the group is clarified and harvested and a spirit of curiosity is encouraged.  Faculty members participate in the exercises and share their personal insights along with the students.  This model encourages respect for others, self-exploration and self trust, and allows for personal ownership of the fundamental principles of healing.

The course is both didactic and experiential: roughly 10% of course time uses a didactic approach.  Non-cognitive methodologies, such as reflection on life experience or personal values, comprise 90% of the course; students participate in imagery, ritual, poetry writing and journal keeping.  Small group work is consistent: Between one-half and two-thirds of class time is spent in small group work, and group membership is held constant through the course.  Students are given the contact information for others in their group.  In these groups, students come to know one another in depth, discover shared values, and support each member’s struggle to be genuine and true to him/herself. At UCSF, groups often continue to meet on their own to offer continuing support after the course has concluded; this has happened at UNC as well.

At UNC, the course will not be tested or graded and students will not earn “credit” toward graduation.  Instead, students will earn a “certificate of completion” after attending all 5 sessions of the course; the certificate will be reflected in Dean’s letters at the time of residency application.

All of the sessions scheduled for 2014 are on Tuesdays or Thursdays, as follows: 

  • Week #1 – Thursday, January 9, 2014:  “Discovering and Nurturing Your Wholeness”, in which students will consider their hopes and fears about the challenges posed to them as they enter the medical profession.
  • Week #2 – Thursday, January 23, 2014:  “Sharing Grief and Honoring Loss”, in which students contemplate loss in their own lives and project this into their roles in helping patients who sustain loss.
  • Week #3 – Tuesday, January 28, 2014:  “Group Conversations from Session on Grief and Loss”, in which small groups will finish discussions from the previous week.
  • Week #4 – Thursday, February 13, 2014:  “Beyond Analysis: Allowing Awe in Medicine”, in which students will contemplate the mysteries that medicine can pose to both patients and physicians.
  • Week #5 – Tuesday, February 25, 2014:  “The Care of the Soul: Service as a Way of Life”, in which students will contemplate the ethics and values inherent in a service profession and will develop their own, personal “Hippocratic Oaths”.

More information about Dr. Remen, The Healer’s Art Course, and a list of schools offering a Healer’s Art course this year may be found at the course’s national website: http://www.ishiprograms.org/programs/medical-educators-students/.  A lecture by Dr. Remen, introducing many of the concepts of the course, is also on the website.   Two recent pieces in the New York Times commented on the value of the Healer’s Art Course to practicing physicians, and may be found at:  "MEDICINE'S SEARCH FOR MEANING", and "WHO WILL HEAL THE DOCTORS?"

Students who wish to be part of this year’s Healer’s Art Course at UNC should contact Dr. Robert Gwyther (Robert_Gwyther@med.unc.edu or 919-966-4611) to secure a place in the 2014 class.  Please include your class (e.g. MS1) when you respond.  This year’s class will be limited to 50 students.  Students are accepted on a first come, first accepted basis.