Skip to main content

The Healer’s Art is a Year I and II course with curriculum designed by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., Director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness (ISHI) 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 being taught this year at more than 70 medical schools in the USA and in 7 other countries. It was first taught at UNC in 2005. 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 about 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 can help medical students find meaning and satisfaction in their chosen profession.

At UNC, the Healer’s Art is a 15-hour elective taught in 5 evening sessions over eight weeks. The curriculum offers a highly interactive, contemplative and didactic approach to enable students to realize the personal and universal meaning in their daily experience of medicine. The course brings together two mutually supportive learning communities, primarily 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. Faculty members participate in the exercises and share their personal insights along with the students.

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. 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 harvested and a spirit of curiosity is encouraged. This model encourages respect for others, self-exploration and self-trust, and 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, 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 her/himself. Groups often continue to meet on their own to offer continuing support after the course has concluded.

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 and has been noted by residencies as a desirable credential.

All of the sessions scheduled for 2016 are on Thursdays, as follows:

  • Week #1 – January 7, 2016: “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 – January 21, 2016: “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 – January 28, 2016: “Group Conversations from Session on Grief and Loss”, in which small groups will finish discussions from the previous week.
  • Week #4 – February 11, 2016: “Beyond Analysis: Allowing Awe in Medicine”, in which students will contemplate the mysteries that medicine can pose to both patients and physicians.
  • Week #5 – February 18, 2016: “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: A lecture by Dr. Remen, introducing many of the concepts of the course, is also on the website.

Students who wish to be part of this year’s Healer’s Art Course at UNC should contact Dr. Amy Weil at or Dr. Sue Slatkoff at to secure a place in the 2016 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.

Based on response, we will also consider running a faculty group to train future teachers of the Healer’s Art, so please let us know if you would like to join such a group.