Medicine’s River of Meaning with Rachel Remen

Program 210 • 29 mins


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Medical reformer Rachel Naomi Remen, author of “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” believes the idea that doctors must fix the patient gets it wrong. In this provocative, deeply moving episode of Humankind, Dr. Remen explains a different vision of the doctor-patient relationship, in which the patient is viewed not as “broken” or as a “victim,” but as someone whose strengths have not yet been fully uncovered. She views the assumption that medical science will fix everything as arrogant. Instead, Dr. Remen says, we need to acknowledge the element of mystery that we can’t control, as a guiding force in health and illness. In 1992, she developed a course for medical students called “The Healer’s Art”, which stimulates reflection on these themes. Today the course is taught in seven countries, including about half of U.S. medical schools. Well over 10,000 physicians have studied these principles. We also consider the plight of medical students and need to nourish their sense of service and purpose.

Medicine's River of Meaning with Rachel RemenThere’s a deep river of meaning that runs through the work of medicine. People are in dark places. They’re in times of loss and fear. And often in these situations, human greatness becomes apparent for the first time: the depth of love, the courage of very elderly people, all sorts of things that you see, that there’s so much awe in medicine. And the awe—it’s a front row seat on life, a seat that most of us would never get to occupy if we weren’t physicians.”

—Rachel Naomi Remen, Professor of Family and Community Medicine at University of California


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