What Being A Musician Taught Me About Practicing Medicine

Joy Muli
Published on Oct 9, 2020. Updated on Oct 8, 2020.

Today on the blog, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow, Joy Mueni will share how music has taught her lessons that apply to medicine! Playing a musical instrument as a medical student has a myriad of benefits in the clinical practice of medicine. From nurturing patience to increasing self-expression, playing a musical instrument also improves memory storage and retrieval, a skill every medical student desperately needs. 

Music plays to the tune of our heart’s emotions, forming an essential part of self-care for several medical students. Music and medicine have a lot more in common than we’d recognize. Ever noticed the shared vocabulary across the two fields? Let’s start with cardiology: ectopic beats, arrhythmia, korotkoff sounds, and across other disciplines; muscle tone, ultrasound, amniotic band. 

Puns aside, music as a hobby has greatly helped me in my clinical experiences. My mother introduced me to music as a young girl in kindergarten. She got me a piano teacher who also doubled as a voice coach. I later went on to study music in high school and explored playing the recorder, guitar, and violin. 

Though I've finally settled on the saxophone as my instrument of choice, alongside that I enjoy singing & songwriting. Little did I know that nurturing my music skills in those formative years would be of great help as a medical student. 

Here are 5 things music has taught me about practicing medicine: 

Patience is a virtue

Playing an instrument is a battle for the brave—only the persevering make it through the long practice hours and days of painstakingly working on the art. From learning music theory to learning how to handle the musical instrument and produce a good sound, a lot of time is invested into musical practice. 

Sounds pretty similar to the medical school journey right? With the average medical training being 6-10 years, a lot of time is invested into learning the art and science of being a physician. Sometimes, the years feel like they’re flying by but to be honest, many times I ask myself “When will I ever finish medical school?” Graduation day will come around one day for each of us, but until it does, we’ll need to be patient and savor the learning moments.

Train your brain how to remember well

The theoretical study of music is an uphill task that leaves many people confused. Musical notes look like code with all the circles and sticks drawn on many lines. Just like any new language, music needs to be learned. My music teachers employed techniques such as mnemonics to help me remember the lines of the staff and years later, I still refer to them for my sight-reading. 

Something as simple as the acronym FACE to remember the notes on the lines of the treble clef taught me how to effectively create, store, and retrieve my memories years later.

Healthcare students have to remember hundreds or even thousands of “bits” of knowledge and skills, which cramming will not help. We need to give our brain a proper workout to allow it to learn well. The Osmosis Playlist on How to succeed in health professions has learning techniques such as spaced repetition, the memory palace, and interleaved practice, that will help you better remember medical concepts.

We are better together 

“No one can whistle a symphony, it takes a whole orchestra to play it.” H.E. Luccock

Solo music performances are lovely but the experience of playing in a band or orchestra is a lot more exhilarating. At least that’s the case for me. Through the years I played violin in a Philharmonic Orchestra, I saw how the melody and rhythms of the different instruments blended into each other and the beauty of each section following the conductor’s lead, producing an overall united sound.

We are encouraged to do the same as physicians. As the Osmosis value says, have each other’s backs. We should embrace our differences and work together to achieve our clinical care goals. This comes in handy where the different professions are included in patient care—doctors, nurses, laboratory staff, nutritionists, etc. We should respect each other as teammates rather than look down on each other based on hierarchical practices passed down over the ages. 

Be open to different cultures

Music genres are numerous, varying from jazz and blues to pop and classical music. Delving into the different rules of each genre exposes you to unfamiliar territories of world history and cultures.

This helps to develop an appreciation for different cultures, something a medical student comes across in the clinical environment. We interact with patients of different races, cultures, ethnicity, and origin in the clinics and wards. Open your arms to diversity and inclusion as it plays itself out in the services we offer- how we choose to serve and address those who are different from us.

Be confident and express yourself

Playing an instrument allows one to unleash their creativity and express their emotions. Music performance also builds one's confidence as stage-fright is overcome and the audience applauses and gives standing ovations to great musicians. 

Similarly, presenting a history before residents and consultants needs great confidence! I can’t tell the number of times I broke into a sweat as a junior medical student during oral viva exams and ward rounds, terrified of the outcome. 

Over time, I have learned how to express myself and let my personality shine through even in the clinical environment. This has a huge part to play even in the patient-doctor interaction as how we carry ourselves lends to the confidence we aspire in our patients of our services. 

Do you resonate with these lessons? Next time you listen to some music or grab your instrument to play, think of music as self-care with a lesson or two for you on matters of medicine. 

About Joy Mueni Muli

Jou Mueni Muli is a fifth year MBChB student at the University of Nairobi. She is originally from Nairobi, Kenya, and plans to go into Oncology. Besides music, she also enjoys creative writing on her personal blog and running social entrepreneurship projects. Fun fact, cinnamon is her favorite spice. Probably why she loves cinnamon rolls so much! 


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