Dalai Lama’s personal doctor visits Pittsburgh, teaches mindfulness
Dr. Barry Kerzin had two questions growing up in California that propelled him to become a family medical doctor, Buddhist monk and personal physician for the 14th Dalai Lama.
He hasn’t quite yet answered the first — “Who am I?” — but he’s pretty sure of the second.
“To me, the meaning of life, what I’m doing here, is to help others,” he said. “That brings a lot of meaning and joy to my life.”
Kerzin, 71, who lives inside the Dalai Lama’s compound at Dharamshala, India, returned this week to Pittsburgh where he is teaching UPMC doctors and nurses about how mindfulness, compassion and resiliency can promote good health and reduce job stress.
He’s having dinner Tuesday night with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, whom he considers a personal friend, to talk about conveying that message to city police officers and street gang members.
Both groups lead stressful lives, and Kerzin thinks he can help relieve some of that.
“I want to find out more about their lives, and their struggles, and their challenges and what they want,” he said of gang members. “I’m going to do the same thing with the police, find out what their lives are like. I think there is going to be trust issues there as well. If you can develop a relationship, particularly the cop on the beat — the person that’s out there in the community — to develop trust in the community, I think that goes a long way.”
He’s also meeting with another personal friend, Bill Strickland, founder of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and the Manchester Bidwell Corp., and conducting a workshop with staff at both organizations.
Kerzin set up a meeting in India last month between the Dalai Lama, Peduto, Strickland and several others.
He’s been working for several years with UPMC medical staff to promote altruism in medicine. He said compassion for others can promote good health and ease stress on doctors and nurses. He’s so far instructed about 2,500 of 16,000 nurses in the UPMC system. He’s teaching classes later this week for UPMC staff in Altoona.
“Compassion, mindfulness, resilience — these things influence many of the systems in the body to create better health,” he said. “They influence the brain, they influence the immune system, they influence epigenetics, they influence the heart and the circulatory system in terms of reducing blood pressure. They help in many levels in the body to help you with better physical health and, of course, they help in many ways to improve mental health.”
He also emphasizes trust.
“That’s crucial for a relationship. And what’s medicine all about? Relationship,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of trust in the health care system, unfortunately. We try to regain that key element in healing. Not only does it improve the relationship, and therefore improve healing, but it also makes people feel better. The patient feels better, and the doctor and nurse feel better.”
Kerzin grew up in Hollywood, Calif., and became interested in Buddhism at an early age.
He traveled to India with a friend in 1988 and has provided free medical care, mainly in rural northern India, ever since. He became one of two personal doctors for the Dalai Lama after vaccinating him for cholera.
Kerzin travels the world up to eight months each year giving talks at health care systems and universities. He considers himself the Dalai Lama’s messenger, a title bestowed by the Dalai Lama himself.
“I take that seriously but try not to have much of a swelled head,” he said. “I’m basically a teacher.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .