Category: Health Magazine, Summer 2024

Title:Bonding around the bonfire

Author: Gabrielle Barone
Date Published: June 14, 2024
students sitting in circle at the calcagnini center
During the Fall 2023 retreat at Georgetown’s Calcagnini Contemplative Center, School of Medicine students enjoyed time for conversation and reflection, both indoors and outdoors. School of Medicine retreats recently received a gift from the Torque Foundation.

School of Medicine students had the chance to breathe in some fresh mountain air last September on the medical student weekend retreat at Georgetown’s Calcagnini Contemplative Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. For the first time since the pandemic, students had 25 hours to take part in hikes, laugh around a bonfire, and sleep in a cabin.

In addition to the fun and bonding, there was time for reflection, introspection, and “contemplation in action.”

“Medical school is to train people who can enter into healing relationships with people in need,” says Father James Shea, S.J., the medical center’s Catholic chaplain, “which means the medical professional needs to reflect and grow in order to have the capacity and compassion to build a healing relationship with their patients.”

While their experiences in medical school varied, students had “so many similar patterns,” says Anna Stephan (M’25), a third year medical student who attended the retreat. “Everyone wanted to slow down from their busy medical school schedules and reflect in community.”

Stephan, who leads a weekly virtual Ignatian Examen (prayerful reflection) for medical students, noted that participants were all open to doing an Examen around a bonfire on the first night.

“It really hit me when I looked up and I saw everyone with their eyes closed,” Stephan says. “I could feel a sense of peace and calm, and felt very connected to the people around me.”

Participants also heard talks from Eileen Moore, M.D., associate dean of community education and advocacy, and Myles Sheehan, S.J., director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, about faith in medicine. Shea led a reflection on using one’s talents in service to others.

students posing outside

“Medical school can be quite overwhelming,” says Stephan. “You tend to be focused directly ahead, and I sometimes feel like I have blinders on. It was great to see retreat participants open up and lean into reflecting. By the end of the weekend there was a communal deep breath… and we asked ‘How can we preserve the peace and stillness?’”

During the unstructured time, participants considered their place in medicine and what they hope to contribute, as well as how to create a contemplative practice to sustain their difficult work.

The retreat is “more than [just] a break, it’s integral to what we should be doing as we form physicians,” Shea says. Medicine is “a profession that really calls on them to have the capacity to work deeply with people… they’re invited into a relationship that very few people are invited into.”

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