University of Vermont

Power, Voice, Grief: New Course Addresses the "Healer's Art" in Nursing

By Jennifer Nachbur, UVM Communications

For years, bestselling author and physician Rachel Naomi Remen’s “Healer’s Voice” course had been delivered to medical students and physicians, but never before to nurses and nursing students until the University of Vermont College of Nursing and Health Sciences received a gift from Burlington, Vt. philanthropists Holly and Bobby Miller to establish the Miller Caring for Nurses Initiative. With their support, UVM nursing faculty members, including Stuart Whitney, Ed.D., R.N., conducted several pilot versions of “The Healer’s Art,” which led to the development of a five-week nursing course called “The Healer’s Voice,” which was offered to UVM graduate nursing students this past spring.

A pioneer in the mind/body holistic health movement who is considered the first health care practitioner to recognize the role of the spirit in health and recovery from illness, Remen developed an educational model that uses an innovative, interactive, contemplative and didactic approach to enable students and faculty to reaffirm their calling and professional commitment, learn effective strategies of renewal and self-care, and form a community of mutual mentorship in service.

Holly Miller, an actively-involved hospice volunteer in the greater Burlington community, was familiar with Remen’s approach and wanted to bring it to nurses in Vermont. The Miller’s gift in 2009 helped launch the steps necessary to bring her vision to reality.

Miller Caring for Nurses Initiative Director and Professor of Nursing Betty Rambur, Ph.D., R.N., Whitney, and other members of UVM’s department of nursing joined the University of California, San Francisco department of nursing for of a bicoastal project focused on translating Remen’s “Healer’s Art” into a program for nurses. Rambur, Whitney, Judith Cohen, Ph.D., R.N., professor of nursing, and Jeanine Carr, Ph.D., R.N., professor of nursing, trained with Remen at the Institute for the Study of Health and Illness in Bolinas, Calif., to prepare to teach the course. Three pilot courses were delivered to community and faculty nurses and students during the 2010-11 school year. Results from the pilots were assimilated, discussed with ISHI and additional faculty and community nurses and students in order to develop “The Healer’s Voice” course at UVM. The current course, says Whitney, addresses a host of issues faced by nurses on a daily basis, including power, voice, grief and loss.

Eager to gauge the impact of the course on nursing students, Miller gathered with former graduate nursing students and current Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) students and Whitney at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences on May 9 to collect feedback about the format and value of “The Healer’s Voice” course.

Graduate nursing student Ryan Townsley participated in a pilot version of the course during the 2010 fall semester, when his son Calvin, now 18 months old, was born with complications. “It was rough going with my son, so this was a very important experience for me,” says Townsley, who appreciated the support he received from fellow students in the course. “In real-life terms, it paid benefits to me and my family,” he says.

“The intimacy of the group was amazing,” says MEPN student Erika Currier, who appreciated the “guided vulnerability” demonstrated by Whitney in the class. Megan Houston, another MEPN student who took the course this past spring, shared that “the conversations were so powerful, I’m sure I won’t ever forget them.”

‘“The Healer’s Voice’ allows for intimate, personal, and thoughtful conversations about important matters facing nurses that are best kept private, respected, and ungraded,” says Whitney, a clinical associate professor of nursing who taught the course this spring at UVM.

During the 2011-12 school year, UVM delivered the first two official “Healer’s Voice” courses to students in the Masters Entry Program in Nursing program, an accelerated educational program that prepares well-qualified graduates of baccalaureate or higher degree programs in other disciplines to become advanced practice nurses in an intensive program designed for highly motivated students.

“We are proud to be a part of this groundbreaking initiative, which offers nurses a unique program designed to support them both professionally and personally, providing the opportunity to reconnect with their passion for and the meaning of their work,” say the Millers.


  • Stuart Whitney, R.N., Ph.D., clinical associate professor of nursing, and MEPN student Jennifer Allaire were interviewed live on “The Mark Johnson Show” on WDEV FM 96.1 AM 550. Listen to the show.