Be the Light – A Chanukah (and Medical Education) Reflection

By Hedy Wald

It’s a festive time of year.  And medical educators so busy, busy trying to tie up loose ends on never-ending projects.  It is good to hear of plans for fun times with family and friends and looking forward to that sense of renewal in the new year…

I sent a Happy Chanukah greeting this week to friends and colleagues, including a colleague in Israel.  I wrote of my hopes for the candles of the menorah to illuminate our way and inspire us with triumph of light over darkness, in our own lives and in the world.  She responded with kind words, including inspiring me with words of a Hebrew holiday song that I enjoyed in years past: “Banu Choshech Legaresh,” translated as: “We came to drive away the darkness.”  This song includes the lyric “everyone is a little light and we all together are a very great light” (as per her free translation).  Another translation has the latter phrase as “all together as a firm light.”  She went on to write: “I strengthen you and all of us together, to see the points of light all the time, along with the difficult and unexpected challenges that life presents us.”

Pause and reflect.  I thought about our work in medical education and wanting to make a difference with cultivating humanistic, ethical, resilient and reflective practitioners (1).  Within being caught up in the hectic day-to-day, how can we best maintain a sense of truly making a difference?  Perhaps we can think about “lighting the way” with reflective, compassionate mentoring of trainees and being “reciprocally illuminated” (2) as we learn and are transformed from interactions with trainees.  In this way, we can sustain a sense of meaning/purpose fostering our own wellbeing as well.  We can cultivate an awareness of our own unique contributions that we bring to learner-centered education.  Together these practices can be that “very great light.”  “All the Small Things” as a medical student of mine wrote, may not be so small after all (3).

I thought about the extraordinary experience I had this month attending the Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards ceremony in NYC which recognized exemplary international leaders within the disability community and their outstanding societal contributions – check this out to #beinspired.  Each of these nine human rights activists is a burning light in their own right and a blazing fire of inspiration as a whole (indeed 8 menorah candles and a lighting candle makes 9!) as they transformed and continue to transform their own challenges into opportunities to improve diversity and inclusion for those with, in the words of honoree Dr. Satendra Singh of India, visible and invisible disabilities.  I had met Dr. Singh, a physiology professor/medical educator, in Twitterverse.  This is a social media story of #meded community and connection, of sharing our medical humanities scholarship (1,4), and I then seized the moment (carpe diem) to meet him and his devoted students as he received his honor on that special day.  I felt strengthened within my own life challenges that day as I met this remarkable person in medical education and the honoree group as a whole.  So many of us, patients, colleagues and trainees, carry life narratives of challenge –with kindness, appreciation, and offers to help we can strengthen each other and foster a more resilient and vibrant community of practice… a shared humanity.

And within all of this, I thought of the concept “physician as citizen”(5,6) in medical education and our efforts to instill a sense of social responsibility.  Social responsibility includes health advocacy and also public advocacy within a public agenda for societal issues which impact public health (e.g., climate change, gun control) and beyond.  Developing such a sense is a crucial component of cohesive and healthy professional identity formation (1).

Be the Light.

Hedy S. Wald, PhD is Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Director, Resident Resilience & Wellbeing, Residency Programs in Child Neurology & Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, Boston Children’s Hospital-Harvard Medical School.  She presents internationally on interactive reflective writing-enhanced reflection & promoting resilience and wellbeing in healthcare professions education and practice.


  1. Hedy S Wald, David Anthony, Thomas A Hutchinson, Stephen Liben, Mark Smilovitch, Anthony A Donato (2015). Professional Identity Formation for Humanistic, Resilient Physicians: Pedagogic Strategies for Bridging Theory to Practice. Academic Medicine 90(6): 753-60.
  2. Roger Kneebone (2015). When I say…reciprocal illumination. Medical Education 49: 861-862.
  3. Lindsey Negrete (2015). All the Small Things. Academic Medicine 90(6): 712.
  4. Satendra Singh, Purnima Barua, Upreet Dhaliwal, Navjeevan Singh (2017). Harnessing the medical humanities for experiential learning. Indian Journal of Medical Ethics 2(3): 147-52.
  5. Russell L Gruen, Steven D Pearson, Troyen A Brennan (2004). Physician-Citizens – Public Roles and Professional Obligations. Journal of the American Medical Association 291: 94-98.
  6.  Phillip Perry (2004). Physicians as Citizens. Journal of the American Medical Association Virtual Mentor 6(4).

2 thoughts on “Be the Light – A Chanukah (and Medical Education) Reflection

  1. To the extent that anyone succeeds at developing one’s humanistic side of caring, compassion, social and human advocacy, we must all acknowledge and celebrate the requisite commitment. The commitment flies in the face of what any insurance or hospital system appear to value. It is not that there are no physicians or other health care professionals who demonstrate these virtues; there are many. They succeed, however, in spite of the system and not because of or supported by it.


  2. Thank you Hedy. Seeing our work as clinicians and educators through the lens of healing the world is a major source of solace in otherwise alienating times. I am grateful to be part of a tribe that includes you, and wish you well now and long after we put our holiday candles away.


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