I’d like to share with you one of my favorite moments in the Healer’s Art, ISHI’s national course for first year medical students. The Healer’s Art is currently taught each year at more than 70 medical schools around the US and the world. The course offers a safe learning environment for students and faculty to explore together personal experiences of service, compassion, calling, mystery, awe, heart-centered healing relationship and reverence for life — vital and daily dimensions of doctoring not often discussed in medical training.

During the second session of this five-session course at every school that teaches the Healer’s Art, there is a moment that makes a difference.  As students are preparing to break into small groups to share their personal stories of vulnerability, loss and healing; a basket filled with small, fuzzy, multicolored “feely hearts” is passed around the room.  Each little heart is handmade and no two are alike.  Students are invited to take one and carry it with them as a reminder to hold their own hearts and the hearts of their patients and colleagues tenderly.

These hearts are made by local volunteers, for each one of the 1500 or more beginning students who take the The Healer’s Art class every year.  Over the years, we have heard many moving “feely heart” stories as students nationwide carry their feely hearts in their pockets throughout medical school and out into the world of medicine. Doctors have loaned their feely hearts to their patients in times of need and shared them with their own students. They have taken them into their churches where the women’s auxiliary has made them for those who grieve.  On many occasions after I have given a talk to the medical society or a hospital in some far flung city, a middle aged woman or man who I have never met before has pulled a threadbare feely heart from the  pocket of an expensive suit and told me that they have carried it with them for years. Perhaps your doctor carries one too.

Long ago, I asked a first year medical student at UCSF what he had learned in the Healer’s Art course. Without hesitation he replied “ I learned I can heal with my humanity things I can never cure with my science.”  So there you have it.