ISHI articleby Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, Institute for the Study of Health and Illness Director

Community building is one of the goals of Commonweal’s Institute for the Study of Health and Illness (ISHI) programs. When we ask people what they learned in our trainings, one of the most frequent responses is, “I no longer feel I am alone.”

As humans, it is through our connection with others that we become whole. Despite all of our daily networking communications, we still long to find our tribe—a place we belong, where, through sharing our stories, hopes, and dreams, we uncover the thread of meaning and common purpose that runs through our day-to-day experiences. As science and technology take over more and more of our lives, the need for human connection has never been greater.

The word “community” comes from the Latin communitas (cum, “with/ together” + munus, “gift”), and that is what the ISHI staff strives to create—a place where all healthcare professionals can come together and offer each other the gift of belonging to an intergenerational group of people committed to one another’s growth and the fulfillment of one another’s dream of service.

The most effective way that ISHI builds community is through Finding Meaning in Medicine (FMM) groups. A simple storytelling process allows participants to feel a sense of belonging as together they uncover shared values and life purpose. ISHI’s first FMM group began 18 years ago as a small gathering of doctors in my living room. In the past few years FMM has become a rapidly growing worldwide movement as hundreds of these self-initiated, no cost groups have sprouted around the United States and the world. Finding Meaning groups have also been initiated in other professions, including Finding Meaning in Nursing, Finding Meaning in Medical School, Finding Meaning in Residency, Finding Meaning in Veterinary Medicine, and more. We are deeply grateful that this free program we designed so many years ago continues to meet a deep need among today’s healthcare professionals. The many ways this community has touched participants’ lives is best told in their own words:

My FMM group nurtures me and encourages me to grow in ways that were never really addressed in my training. I feel safe here, free to speak my truth, unafraid of judgment or misunderstanding. – Family Medicine Physician

These meetings, these relationships give me the confidence to share more openly with my patients…to empathize more deeply with them and receive their friendship as well. I feel less alone. – Ob/Gyn

In our FMM group we have the opportunity to share our pain, our fear, our doubts… in safety, with others who speak a common language and have similar experiences. – Orthopedic Surgeon

I discovered in the FMM meetings that I am bound to other doctors by bonds of the heart and not just the intellect. – Physician