It may come as a surprise that a disproportionately large number of medical students in the U.S. have a background in music. While many are amateur musicians, a considerable number have had formal training in the field and even professional success as performers.
It is not entirely clear why so many musicians end up in medicine, as the two fields may seem worlds apart. Yet, something draws people with a musical ear to patient care.
Whatever the reasons, musicians possess useful soft skills that are invaluable for the study and practice of medicine. The premed journey can be difficult, but it should not deter premed students with a musical background or an interest in music from pursuing this unique passion. Along with serving as an outlet that can help them unwind after a long day of work, music will help them hone a multitude of skills that will prepare them for the journey ahead.
Strong Work Ethic
Anyone who has ever attempted to play a musical instrument or sing knows that mastering a piece of music requires a great deal of hard work. Honing manual dexterity skills on the violin or piano requires long hours over extended periods of time. On top of the technical mastery, many more hours go into infusing the artistic and creative elements that make the piece pleasing to the ear.
In music there are no shortcuts. Mastery of a piece of music requires hard work day in and day out, even when inspiration is lacking. Yet in the process, the musician develops a strong sense of self-discipline and a rigorous work ethic. Along with this, sitting at a piano or playing a violin for many hours a day can be physically taxing on the body, which teaches the musician greater endurance.
The stamina that musicians develop over time is beneficial in medicine. The physical stamina can help them cope with the long hours of being on one’s feet at the hospital or in an operating room. The mental stamina comes in handy when med school students have to put in long hours studying for exams or boards.
The self-discipline that musicians develop through religious practice transfers over to medicine, as well. Many med schools are adopting problem-based learning models into their curricula and encouraging students to become independent learners who can find answers to questions on their own.
In this type of academic environment, being self-motivated is crucial to finding answers, enhancing the learning experience and succeeding as a student. As a practicing physician, staying up to date with the field requires having the discipline for continued learning every day. A musical background can help in this regard.
Ability to Connect With Patients
Music is a powerful way of expressing emotion. Instrumentalists and singers must understand the emotional state of the composer who wrote a piece, add their own creative element to that piece and communicate it to an audience.
This awareness of another’s emotional state and the ability to relay the composer’s message is akin to connecting with patients. Caring for patients involves understanding their state of mind and being able to form a bond with them as they experience a variety of emotions during their journey with illness.
Mastery of music can lead to a strong understanding of the human condition as one seeks to understand the many different emotions that a composer is expressing in a piece of music. This understanding can help doctors relate to their patients. In fact, some med schools are incorporating art into their teaching, as they have found that the arts can teach med students to be more empathetic.
Whether you are a member of a hard rock band, a classical symphony or a church choir, playing music often involves working in teams. The long hours that musicians spend practicing with others helps them develop teamwork and collaboration.
Most musicians who play as part of a group understand that the different members of the group have to work together in harmony to create the desired result. This can lead to a greater appreciation for the value of being a part of a team.
The teamwork skills that one develops in music are useful in med school when studying with peers or working on group projects. It also helps in the clinical years when med students rotate through various specialties in medicine and have to work alongside their peers, residents, attending physicians and other members of diverse health care teams to care for patients.
These teamwork skills are also important in medical practice. Many doctors join group practices or work in hospital settings where effective collaboration is imperative. In fact, research has shown that improvements in teamwork in clinical settings can reduce medical errors and enhance patient care.
If these are not enough reasons for you to pursue music during your premed journey, you may want to keep in mind that a musical background can also go a long way in impressing medical school admissions committees.
Whatever your initial motivation may be to pick up a musical instrument for the first time or continue an already existing musical interest as a premed, you will be pleasantly surprised to see how much it will help you as you navigate your journey from the premed years into medical school and your career as a physician.