Medicine and Music

Last month  we went to a memorial service for my father-in-law given by the medical school to which he had donated his body.  You see,  he died two years ago this past April, and per his wishes,  his body was donated to Hofstra Medical School. After two years, the school holds a service for the families and friends. There were eight families present,  and to my surprise,  many medical students as well. The room was filled to overflowing.

I didn’t know what to expect. But I certainly hadn’t thought about medical students reading poetry or playing music. This was a real memorial service complete with music and personal reflections.  Several students played musical instruments and sang. One read her reflection on her own relative’s decision to donate. Unfortunately,  the med student who had written a poem for the occasion was called away,  and we did not get to hear it, but what we did hear was lovely,  heartfelt, and a testament to the creative spirit and to those generous people who donated their bodies to the school who became these medical students’ “first patients.” My sister-in-law also read a beautiful reflection on my father-in-law and his decision to donate.

In talking with the young med student who was one of those for whom my father-in-law was “first patient,” we expressed our surprise at the creative, mostly musical, hobbies of these med students. He told us that he too plays an instrument (I forget now which one). Though he has little time to pursue music, it is a welcome diversion whenever he can find the time. Music, like most creative endeavors, requires a concentration on the moment at hand. It is a release, momentarily, from the stresses and rigors of med school. Of course that makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t med students be like the rest of us who yearn to express ourselves in some creative fashion? Why wouldn’t med students need the creative release of playing guitar, violin, piano, or writing a poem, or drawing a picture after hours of studying organic chemistry? I had not thought of it before. Medical shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy focus on the quick moving, cut throat, and life-saving world of medicine. We become conditioned to look at med students/doctors as narrowly focused on their specialties in medicine. But real doctors, real med students are more complex than that; they are multi-faceted human beings. The beauty of creativity is how it allows all of us to experience the world from different perspectives. This is a wonderful skill for anyone, but especially for the people who help us when we are at our lowest.

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