The Real Reason Doctors Become Doctors

medical stethoscope

You might think doctors enter the field of medicine in order to get rich, please their parents, or gain status, and sure, there are probably some money-driven doctors who were given only two choices of professions by their parents-medicine or the law. While I’m not saying those things aren’t motivators for some, I will claim that what drives doctors to endure the sacrifices of medical training goes far deeper.

On a teleclass I was leading with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen for the doctors of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, Rachel asked us, “How old were you when you first realized that the life of another living being mattered?”

We were all less than ten. Rachel has been asking this question to thousands of doctors for decades, and the answers are consistent. We are the children who go out early on rainy days to rescue the worms from the mud puddles so the bullies don’t squash them. We are the girls who nurse the injured baby birds back to health. We are the boys who cry out when the other boys are pulling the tails off lizards.

I was the Squirrel Girl. As I explain in greater details in this blog post, I was the seven-year old who became the nurse to injured baby squirrels in my small Florida town. Between the ages of seven and twenty-two, I raised twenty-two baby squirrels who others brought to me when the squirrels got hurt.

Rachel told one touching story about a male doctor who remembers being only two when he cut his foot on the sharp drain of the bathtub, and his mother warned him not to step on the drain because it was sharp and could hurt him. So every night, as he got out of the bath, he dropped his washcloth over the drain, so the water wouldn’t get cut as it swirled down the drain.

The Lineage Of Medicine

As I wrote about in How To Heal Our Broken Health Care System, doctors are called to medicine the way some are called to the priesthood. Medicine is a spiritual practice. I think that’s why we call it a “medical practice.” It is something you practice, like you practice yoga or you practice meditation, like you’ll never get it fully right.

This calling to medicine comes from deep within us, usually at a very young age, and it ties us to the lineage of medicine that predates modern medical advances like antibiotics, sterile surgical technique, or vaccinations. This same lineage calls other healers, and it is what ties us to the shamans, the medicine men and medicine women, and all the other healers from indigenous cultures who continue to practice their healing art.

The Healer Gets Traumatized

Although doctors are tied to the lineage of the true healer, the brutality of our medical education tends to leave doctors with undiagnosed, untreated PTSD. We are exposed to tragedy, heartbreak, and death from our patients, as well as sexual harassment, verbal, physical, and sometimes sexual abuse at the hands of our physician teachers, all while we are expected to sacrifice our own self care in service to the needs of our patients. Unsurprisingly, we often forget that we were called to be healers in the first place and wind up being automatons who treat patients the way auto mechanics treat cars, with a sort of emotional detachment that belies the lineage we come from.

Yet, inside every doctor, that lineage is still alive, if you dig deep enough.

Reclaiming The Inner Doctor

Along with pioneering mind-body medicine physician faculty members like Bernie Siegel, Rachel Naomi Remen, Christiane Northrup, and Larry Dossey, I have spent most of the last year running a training program for doctors specifically designed to help doctors heal themselves and reclaim the true healer within. My motivation to develop the Whole Health Medicine Institute stems from my desire to empower revolutionary physicians who will be a part of the movement to heal health care (if you’re one of the patients, doctors, nurses, or alternative health care providers who wants to be part of this revolution, join the forum at and get ready for mobilization in 2014!)

My other motivation is to help empowered patients find the kinds of physicians who want to partner with them in the kind of patient-centered approach I describe in Mind Over Medicine. (A partial listing of this year’s participants in the program is here). Ultimately, I hope to create a directory so the kinds of doctors who are reconnected to the lineage of the true healer can connect with the kinds of patients who are seeking that holistic approach in a physician.

Physician, Heal Thyself

When I was still practicing clinical medicine, I was taking seven drugs my doctors told me I would be dependent on for the rest of my life. Now, I’m down to half the dose of one of the drugs. Why? Because I take better care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I am not alone in being a doctor who was literally working herself to an early heart attack. Many of the people we depend upon for our own health do a terrible job of caring for themselves.

Consider the doctors and other health care practitioners who eat junk food all day because they don’t have time to eat a salad, drink too much at night to numb the pain of what they endure at work each day, are constantly sleep deprived, and suffer emotionally from the loneliness that stems from unhealthy relationships. The chronic stress of the job leaves these healers in a chronic “fight-or-flight” stress response which, as I describe in Mind Over Medicine, disables the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms and predisposes the body to illness.

To Heal Health Care, We Must Heal Those Who Care For Us

How can we expect our healers to heal us if they aren’t prioritizing their own self care? We must, as a culture, shift the belief that doctors, nurses, and other health care providers must sell out their own bodies, minds, and souls in order to serve us.

That’s part of what I’m trying to do at the Whole Health Medicine Institute. One question we ask our doctors regularly is “How are you doctoring yourself today?”

We are currently accepting applications for the Whole Health Medicine Institute Class of 2014, so if you or anyone you know is a physician interested in reclaiming the lineage of the healer, while learning new tools to bring to patient care and focusing on doctoring yourself, read here to learn more about how to apply for one of only twenty spots. And if you’re a healer who isn’t an MD or DO, stay tuned! We’ll be expanding the program to make room for you later in 2014, so make sure you’re on my mailing list at if you want to be notified about future programs.

Do You Prioritize Self Care?

Let me ask you the same question we ask the doctors, whether you’re a health care provider or not. How are you doctoring yourself today?

And have you found your calling? Are you in alignment with the ethics of the lineage of your calling? What steps might you take to remember who you are and why you do what you do?

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