Meaning in Medicine

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen has devoted her life to helping physicians keep and growth their connection to medicine as a healing art. Through the "Healer's Art," "Tending the Flame," and "Rekindling the Flame" programs, Remen and colleagues have done much to quell the growing tide of burnout and compassion fatigue. The passage below highlights Remen's belief that the practice of medicine can be a spiritual path. 


"Medicine is a practice and a spiritual path. Remembering this deep meaning is what keeps us from burning out, is what keeps us alive. The meaning of medicine isn’t science. The meaning of life isn’t science either. Science defines life in its own way, but life is larger than science. There’re so many things that happen that can’t be explained. All of us have seen these things. But we don’t talk about them very much. These are the things that inspire us, that remind us why we’re here, that help us to feel alive. Doctors of thousands of years ago, how they would have envied us our tools, our scientific reach, our therapeutic power. They would have understood our sense of wanting to befriend life because they shared it with us. They would have understood it perfectly. Service is not a technique, it’s much more a way of life, a deep wish that’s in you and me to be a friend to life, to make a difference somehow, not to fix life, because life isn't broken, but to serve life because it's holy. I have always seen medicine as a spiritual path, a way of life that is characterized by harmlessness, compassion, generosity, service, a kind of an awe or reverence for life, a sense of mystery. This sacredness of this work is in the words: we practice medicine, medicine is my practice, like meditation or anything else that draws you closer to what is most real in this world, that reminds you of who you are, and the privilege of living a human life."

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

For reflection alone or together: 

How has or hasn't the practice of palliative care been a spiritual path for you?

What mysteries and experiences of awe have you encountered in your work? 

Next week: The efficiency of inefficiency