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On the Future of Medicine & Healing

A Word from Dr. Bernie


For far too long, we have been disconnected from our bodies, minds, and spirits. Living in a society that is addicted to trauma, chaos, and oppression, we have normalized states of panic and fear in our lives. What we must realize is that the societal oppression we witness is actually a magnification of the microcosms of harm we experience in our day-to-day life: our dysfunctional relationships, our illnesses, our work that we find draining, our inability to find rest. Society encourages us to normalize these dysfunctions and escape, run away, and hide (literally). This can no longer be the accepted norm.


Growing up in a family that experienced medical trauma, I am the first in my family to become a physician and graduate from the Ivy League. I came to medical school with a background in community organizing and with the intention to learn more about how to bring healing to our communities. Unfortunately, while I learned the language of medicine and clinical reasoning, the majority of what I have witnessed has been more harm than good. In a medical system that values profit and algorithmic efficiency over patient and care, I witnessed Black, Brown, and immigrant patients get inadequate care. I saw many of my supervisors, colleagues, and peers get exploited for their labor -- causing immense suffering among the workforce and thus disillusionment and neglect of patients. I got angry after learning from critical race theorists that Black and Brown patients were seen as having inherently diseased bodies through various clinical algorithms used in medicine for common diagnoses and treatments and thus wrongly diagnosed and under/overtreated. Enraged, I co-authored a 70-page report to unveil what was being taught and practiced. Even on a practical level, I could name all the mechanisms and pathophysiology of rare diseases and get esoteric boards questions right about various pharmacology mechanisms of action, but still didn't even know basic nutrition advice, exercise regimens, or nervous system regulation (and rarely had the time to implement it within my own life myself). I knew how to technically "treat disease", but not uplift the inherent health and healing mechanisms of the body. I myself experienced a deep existential crisis during my clinical year at the height of COVID. In spite of me winning various awards, recognitions, and honors and being the poster child of "health equity" on many occasions, I was exhausted and unfulfilled. There was a deep feeling inside me that something was not right.


Coincidentally, at this time was also when I decided to found the Freedom Community Clinic as an embodiment of what I actually wanted to see in our healthcare system. As my family went through various instances of medical trauma, my mother actually found refuge and healing through her own Ancestral practices of Filipino massage and spiritual counseling. Communing with elders and community leaders in the Bay Area also opened my eyes that this was true throughout history: the Black Panther Party brought acupuncture & primary care to the people, La Clinica and Native American Health integrate ceremonial cleansing alongside primary care. What if this could be done in ways that were youthful, multicultural, and joyful? Fast forward, as we were holding healing clinics after Black Lives Matter protests with acupuncturists, massage therapists, Indigenous energy workers working with doctors, nurses, and health educators. Each healing clinic held at local parks throughout Oakland were filled with Black and Brown people breathing together, moving together, crying together, healing together, feeling at peace during a time of heightened political tension. Feeling safe. Feeling held. As an organizer, I witnessed what healing was during a time when I dreaded going to the hospital. At our clinics, I felt and continue to feel the vibrancy of care, culture, community, social justice. An honoring of our Ancestors. A bridge among Medicines. In the streets, with the people. This is what Medicine truly is.

Our current medical system fails to be a safe sanctuary for the health and healing of Black, Brown, and immigrant communities. Black, Brown, and immigrant people are 2-3x more likely to develop chronic disease, have higher mortality rates, and have shorter life expectancies. Roots causes include racism embedded within the medical system, economic inequality, and socioenvironmental injustices. Because of waning lack of trust in the medical system and the commodification of holistic healing (e.g. massage therapy, meditation, acupuncture, and more), holistic integrative therapies rarely center the participation/leadership of Black and Brown people and are rarely affordable or accessible to Black and Brown people individually and in community.

Western medicine has incredible, life-saving treatments and technologies in response to acute infection and acute trauma. Yet in a world that is plagued by the rise of chronic dis-ease, mental health, and autoimmune issues, where answers are not as clear cut and "one-size-fits-all", Western medicine alone is simply inadequate at addressing the stressors and trauma that are felt inside the body and spirit. The physical dis-ease so many of us experience is simply a reflection of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual disconnection we are encountering in our society.

Because of this, health equity simply cannot be intellectualized anymore. We must go beyond the age of "social determinants of health" and "cultural competency". Even "structural determinants of health". God forbid we still use the terms "cultural competency". So many of these frameworks are articulated in academic settings that are violent in their policies, hierarchies, and treatment of workers, learners, and communities. We must take an honest look at how we can say these words, yet replicate the oppression and violence of these institutions in our own daily lifestyles and relationships.

The art of medicine is not about algorithms and esoteric knowledge. The art of medicine is remembering what it means to be human -- our shared vulnerabilities, emotions, imperfections. It is about committing to daily acts of love and miracles in the world in spite of suffering. Ancestral Medicines such as acupuncture, massage therapy, cupping, yoga, meditation, breathwork, Qi Gong, and many more honor the interconnected nature of body, mind, and spirit in ways that are non-invasive. Yet, Western medicine still invalidates these practices has not being "evidence-based" and "inconclusive". To which I reply, to whose standard are they claiming such? To categorize these Ancestral traditions as "alternative" and "complementary" is offensive and whiteness exemplified at its best, as these medicinal traditions hold a deep understanding of many chronic illnesses and mystery ailments that plague our society through a lens that honors body, mind, and spirit.

So Dr. Bernie, then what? What is the future of Medicine? I believe the future of medicine must center on Whole-Person Healing. The embodiment of it. Not just a theory, not just an academic framework. A living example of honestly looking at the disoriented state of our bodies, minds, and spirits. An honest holding up of the mirror to our selves. An honoring of Culture. An honoring of Community. An honoring of our Ancestors. Creating our own community healing institutions and holding our current ones accountable for their exploitation and harm. We must stop thinking that intellectualization is enough. Enough thinking, start feeling.

In essence, what I've realized is that Whole-Person Healing is a feeling. It is an embodied daily practice that will look different everyday and in every body. It is a homecoming back to our bodies and spirits after being in survival mode. It is an exhale. It is putting on the e-mail vacation responder because very rarely is anything truly that urgent. It is the "no" to a task we don't want to do and a "yes" to closing our eyes for a moment of rest. It is a middle finger to the hidden curriculum and politics of politeness in the workplace. It is truthful, honest conversations that can feel painful in the moment, yet necessary and liberating.


As we practice these moments of Whole-Person Healing within ourselves and our communities, we begin to feel better and can create better futures for our world. For myself, I have various practices I do throughout the week. Time for my healing is a non-negotiable: Been doing daily meditation & yoga for 15+yrs. Also regular breathwork, Thai bodywork, herbal medicine, energy healing, acupuncture. Having difficult, but necessary conversations with myself and others. Laughing, spending time in the sun, spending time in nature. We begin to realize that the purpose of life is not simply material wealth or gain, but rather the freedom to live as our true authentic self without the confines and expectations of society. That's my goal as I work towards refining the philosophy of Whole-Person Healing through my various projects and at Freedom Community Clinic. To continue to proclaim in streets, in the club, in our communities, with the people: Healing is Justice. Healing is Resistance. Healing is Freedom. 

With love,


Dr. Bernadette (Bernie) Lim, MD, MS

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