the healer’s journey
Students of Medicine take an arduous journey that reflects the path of their fellow humans for whom they vow to provide care. A voyage of transformation on every level, the changes they undergo reflect a deep engagement with the science, art and responsibilities of being present to and caring for aging, illness, and death, while also caring for themselves.
The Healer’s Journey is a film that will follow the path of the medical student, the physician in training and the practicing physician through critical experiences of training and medical practice over the course of four years. The arc of this journey begins with idealism and great expectations, in large part motivated by the potential good envisioned in their future life’s work, by the meaning that it may bring to them, and by the challenges of a career of serving the uncertainties experienced by placing their work at the center of the processes of aging, illness, and death.
Preparation before medical school begins with a descent into the salt mines of the basic sciences- the foundation of medicine- while many simultaneously engage with humanity through community activities, volunteer work, and other undertakings. These demonstrate not only their drive and commitment, but also expose them to a wide range of human experiences, building character and helping them to recognize the complexities of the world and carry that recognition with them as they begin to learn to work at the crossroads of human frailty, illness, and suffering. Paradoxically, although armed with idealism, intellectual acuity, and determination, this pre-professional training has unexpected effects on them.
Nevertheless, as they begin their formal medical education, they hope that the nascent seeds of healthy professionalism will grow. Through the formal curriculum-the educational mission and vision designed and transmitted in the classroom and clinical settings, they look forward to being able to join their predecessors in taking one of the oldest formal professional commitments, the Hippocratic Oath. A testament to their fitness for the rigors of medicine, medical students at the onset of their education are in better health and more resilient than their contemporaries who are not in medicine.
In the ensuing four years, their training continues through encounters with the intersection of the complex worlds of science, human behavior, social, political and economic systems. They experience the formal curriculum of the basic sciences, anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and therapeutics. Human behavior, psychology, sociology and epidemiology are integrated within this curriculum, while they simultaneously experience their first encounters with real patients suffering from real illness.
Encountered within the formal curriculum, as they immerse themselves into the world of medicine, are powerful informal and hidden forces that are present from the moment they step into the classroom and will continue throughout their careers. These forces, referred to as the hidden curriculum, exert their influence through the tacit structures within medical education and health care institutions. They include the influence of their mentors and peers, from whom they learn interpersonal skills in the medical environment, witnessing experiences of great courage and sacrifice as well as the effects of distancing and adaptive and maladaptive responses to being in the midst of pain, uncertainty, unexpected and sometimes unacceptable outcomes. They experience vicarious trauma as real human suffering is met in all its gritty relief. At the same time personal economic imperatives created by mounting educational debt, aging, and their desire for their lives to broaden beyond their careers add to the complex learning and working environments. Their preparation has been invaluable, yet their overall health and well-being can suffer, many of them arriving at the end of these four years worse off than their contemporaries.
The changes occurring over these four short years accelerate during their residency education, as they take on greater degrees of responsibility for direct patient care, making challenging decisions on a daily basis, and working with the consequences of those decisions. Referred to as the “practice of medicine,” this growth and learning never truly ends, continuing into their post-residency careers. Finally, these individuals- the medical student, resident, and practicing physician, at some point or another, receive care from their colleagues, who are the products of the same professional formation that they experienced. The outcome as a health professional depends on the primary forces of the formal curriculum and the hidden curriculum, and how they interact with the individuals at each and every level of their career.
Underneath what most would characterize as a radical transformation that occurs in this medical education process, there remains those parts of the individual that are carried from early on into the noble profession. For some, bolstered by their education and training, these parts remain strong and evident in their lives- at work and at home. For others, some parts may seem distant, but remain accessible, and endure, ready to burst forth, if given the right conditions.
September 11, 2001 marked a pivotal moment in the American experience. It’s the line in the sand event that marked time for millions of us into two distinct eras; pre- 9/11 and post-9/11. This horrific attack changed the course of our lives, both personally and collectively.
Immediately following the catastrophe, we came together as individuals and as a country. We followed the examples set by firefighters and police officers. In their selfless acts of bravery, empathy, courage and compassion, we glimpsed the deepest reflections of our humanity. We showered them with support by attending funerals, delivering them food and gifts, seeking any possible way to say thank you. This level of gratitude and kindness extended to those of us outside of the first responders as well. We held subway car doors for those running down the stairs to catch the train, offered assistance to strangers when we saw they needed it instead of averting our eyes, and carried a spirit of ‘we are all in this together’ for several months, or more.
As time passed, personal and collective memories evolved and experiences faded. What seemed to be resolute softened around the edges. We built monuments to retain a legacy, teach our children about events, dates, names, and statistics in the hope that they might remember experiences they never lived through, and we set policies and strategies to avoid another disaster.
But, have we changed in larger ways? Are we as divided now, as we were connected on 9/11? What have we learned?
Firehouse will return to the firefighters and those deeply affected by 9/11 firsthand. It’s been almost 20 years since the tragedy. Many have passed away and many others have a 9/11-related illness. We wish to capture their stories now since they’ve had time to reflect upon the impact over time. Our access point will be the heart of this community, a firehouse, specifically FDNY Engine 33 and Ladder 9, where 10 of the 14 firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center were killed in the September 11 attacks.
Are we on the right path? What still needs to be fixed, changed, addressed, commemorated? We believe they have more to teach us.
Opioids From Inside (Part 2: first responder)
Opioids From Inside follows the lives of three first responders who are fighting every day on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic. Three people who not only work to stem the tide, but whose personal lives have been impacted by the very thing they work tirelessly to stop… overdoses.
Right from the first frame, the clock starts ticking. Each day equals lives lost—or saved. Filmed in cinéma vérité, the viewer is brought into the room where every minute counts. Shifting between rage and triumph, despair and joy, we are drawn in, pulled by the raw power of grief and hope. The film opens with a series of survivor telling their overdose stories to camera:
As the film unfolds, Opioids From Inside will focus on three individual first responders, their family, and co-workers. We learn why they do this often-heartbreaking work day in and day out, and in some cases their personal loss to opioids, who they lost, how it happened, and what that tragedy left in its wake. We also experience their work; a firefighter, a doctor, and an emergency medical technician (EMT). Their daily effort to save lives is a constant battle, and we witness first-hand what that struggle looks like in the trenches…and what it costs. Interwoven with expert commentary, the film searches for meaning in this epidemic. How did we get here? And how do we dig ourselves out? Who is doing the hard, often unappreciated, daily work of pulling people back to life?