Lissa Rankin, MD, describes herself as a skeptic. She is a Western-trained ob-gyn, linear thinker, and evidence-informed scientist. In the same breath, however, she also describes herself as a mystic — an open-hearted, spiritually alive, empathic healer who has witnessed countless “miracles” of healing and has also experienced them firsthand herself. “I’m sort of a unicorn,” she says. Her private inquiries and outer discoveries have made her an unusual expert in the sometimes opposing worlds of conventional Western medicine and alternative healing.
Rankin’s awakening began when she was thirty-six, only several years out from residency training. By this point, she was already disillusioned by her profession and “morally injured,” leaving the hospital where she worked, and eventually leaving clinical medicine altogether. Personally, she was taking seven prescription drugs for a variety of health conditions her doctors couldn’t cure, and she feared she wouldn’t live to forty. So she set off to learn what else might ease suffering when doctors say, “We’ve done all we can.”
Since then, Rankin has become a bestselling author, artist, activist, and thought leader in mind-body medicine, dedicated to “healing health care.” Having spent equal time practicing and studying in Western medicine as she has in complementary and alternative medicine (fourteen years in each), she is careful not to blindly praise one paradigm over another. “I found just as much shadow in that world [alternative medicine] as I did in the world of conventional medicine,” she writes. “You might say I’ve been a doe-eyed devotee of both camps, but I’ve also been disillusioned by both…both offer gems and garbage. Both can wow us with miracles or horrify us with malpractice….”
Her latest explorations, which spanned a decade of deep investigation and culminated in her most recent book, Sacred Medicine: A Doctor’s Quest to Unravel the Mysteries of Healing, took her from holy mountains, faith healers, and prayer circles to trauma experts, cutting-edge scientists, and leading psychologists. Guiding her were some of her fundamental questions: when it comes to healing from illness and injury, how is it that some people do everything right and stay sick, while others seem to do nothing extraordinary yet fully recover? How does faith healing work, or does it? Can we make ourselves miracle-prone, and if so, how?
In response to the need for more holistically trained doctors and healthcare professionals, Rankin founded the Whole Health Medicine Institute. She also founded the nonprofit organization Heal At Last, a trauma-informed, physician-designed community wellness program modeled after 12 Step programs, that seeks to provide equal access to spiritual practices, as well as the healing of trauma and the “epidemic of loneliness.”
She is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Mind Over Medicine. Her work has been featured across national media outlets, including O Magazine, The New York Times, CNN, Health, Women’s Health, and Cosmopolitan. Her TEDx talks have been viewed over 4M times, and she leads workshops online and at retreat centers around the US. She is currently consulting for a Biden task force on vaccine hesitancy as a trauma symptom. She resides in Northern California.
Please join Dr. Cynthia Li in conversation with this gifted and lively “unicorn” of a doctor as we explore the mysteries of healing together.