The physician healer track: educating the hearts and the minds of future physicians

Med Educ Online. 2021 Dec;26(1):1844394. doi: 10.1080/10872981.2020.1844394.


Calls to reform medical education recommend explicit training in professional identity formation to promote the development of humanistic, compassionate physicians. The authors report their experience offering The Physician Healer Track, a 500-contact-hour curricula integrated over 4 years, focusing on self-awareness, reflection, being-with-suffering, communication and professional identity development. The voluntary scholarly-concentration program comprises 4 years of monthly dinner meetings with faculty mentors, a two-month preceptorship in the first year, a one-month immersion course in MS4 and one elective. Training in mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, nonviolent communication, motivational interviewing, spirituality in healthcare, wellness, equanimity, and 'being with suffering' is reinforced across all 4 years. Community building and reflection are integral to the training both in the monthly sessions and the immersion courses. Enrollment has grown from 26 students in the first year (11% of class) to a total of 258 students across our first 6 years (average of 20-26% of each class). Graduates in our first two cohorts of PHT have exceeded the numbers in the eight other scholarly concentrations offered at UTMB. Among students participating in the summer preceptorship, there has been less than 1% attrition. In serial assessments, students report continued growth in personal development, professional development, and the ability to empathize. Offering PHT has resulted in the growth of training for our medical residents, faculty, physical therapy students and the creation of a student healer association. Despite the demands on student's time, they are voluntarily participating in a challenging program of integrated training with the intention of keeping them connected to their humanity during the rigors of medical school training.

Keywords: Curriculum; Humanism; Physician Healer; Professional Identity; Undergraduate Medical Education.

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical* / methods
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Empathy*
  • Faculty
  • Humanism
  • Humanities* / education
  • Humans
  • Mentors
  • Mindfulness*
  • Physicians
  • Schools, Medical
  • Students, Medical* / psychology

Grant support

External funding for the Physician Healer Track comes from the Glenda Gilbert Hickman Legacy Fund and the Dr. Dan and Laura Nell Nicholson FundGlenda Gilbert Hickman Legacy Fund and the Dr. Dan and Laura Nell Nicholson Fund [none available].