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.