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Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1938

Medical School

Cornell University Weill Medical College



Career Path

Pediatric medicine: Endocrinology
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen


I do not remember making a choice to become a doctor. There are nine doctors and two nurses in two generations of my family and growing up I thought people became adults and physicians as part of a single process. I was the only pre-med in my kindergarten class. It never occurred to me to lead another sort of life.


To provide quality patient care, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen combines the art and science of medicine through a holistic approach. She was one of the Western trained first physicians active in the mind/body holistic health movement. She is co-founder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program and has cared for cancer patients and their families since 1975.

Rachel Remen was born into a family of doctors and nurses, and her grandfather was an orthodox rabbi. As a child, she felt torn between a religious path or a medical career, but has been able to combine the two as an holistic physician. As someone who has suffered from a chronic disease Dr. Remen shares the experience of being a patient as well as a physician, a prospective she values highly. A storyteller and public speaker, Remen reminds patients to use the potential of their own lives to make a difference. To physicians, she reminds them to be true to their calling and strengthen their commitment to serve life.

Dr. Remen is clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine, where she is also Director of the innovative UCSF course, "The Healer's Art." She is director of the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness, which she founded in 1993, a professional development program for graduate physicians. She is the author of two widely read books Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, published in 1996, and My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging, published in 2000.

Dr. Remen is a nationally recognized medical reformer and educator who sees the practice of medicine as a spiritual path. Her work has been recognized by a number of honorary degrees and she has been invited to teach in medical schools and hospitals throughout the country.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I was diagnosed with severe Crohn's disease when I was 15 years old and throughout medical school, residency and fellowship I was very ill. I have been chronically ill for over fifty years. The second largest obstacle I encountered was the fact that I was a women, which at the time I began medicine was seen as a significant professional handicap that needed constantly to be overcome.

How do I make a difference?

I have a holistic vision of medicine as a way of life based on the foundations of compassion, harmlessness, service and reverence for life. My two best selling books, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings, are used as teaching casebooks in many medical and nursing schools and have been translated into fourteen languages. The Healer's Art course that I developed and have taught since 1992 at University of San Francisco School of Medicine is now taught by faculty at 21 other medical schools. Through these means I have been able to engage a great many students and physicians in the search for meaning and integrity in this work and the recovery of the soul of its practice. I am a co-founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, one of the first support groups for people with cancer, which was featured in Bill Moyer's groundbreaking 1993 PBS special Healing and the Mind. Since then I have had the opportunity to speak to tens of thousands of people with cancer, their families and professionals nationwide.

Who was my mentor?

I had three:

Saint Luke, who demonstrated to me that despite its scientific power medicine is in its essence a spiritual path characterized by compassion, harmlessness and service.

Maimonedes, who defined medicine for me as a special kind of love, a befriending of the life in others. "Inspire me with love for all of Thy creatures, May I see in all who suffer only the fellow human being."

Rabbi Meyer Ziskind, my grandfather, who showed me what it means to live so simply and honestly that you become a light in the world.

How has your career evolved over time?

I started my career as an academic pediatrician trained in pediatric endocrinology and have become an educator, lecturer, writer, medical reformer and one of the pioneers of complementary and alternative medicine. I have had an opportunity to touch many more people than I had ever dreamed possible as a medical student. I feel deeply grateful for this and for the opportunity to be a part of this profession.