It’s everywhere you go — including stores, restaurants, movies, sporting events, elevators and phone calls. It’s there when you watch TV or go see a movie. Sometimes, you can’t even get it out of your head. But whether you believe it or not, it’s a powerful force that enhances the experiences at the locations just mentioned and can even be harnessed to manage our well-being. It’s music.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can address a variety of healthcare and educational goals such as managing stress, promoting wellness, enhancing memory and more. In fact, there is a growing amount of research that definitively shows how music can unlock the mind for people suffering from dementia, calm and coordinate the movement of people suffering from Parkinson's, wake people from psychosis, energize someone exercising, recall long-lost memories, summon tears and more.
Given that music has the power to do such great feats, it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to believe in music as an effective stress management and well-being tool. It’s something most people probably already do... turning on a favorite song to get themselves out of a bad mood, creating a playlist to exercise to, and in our field of ophthalmology, even playing music during surgery. With music already part of our everyday experience, perhaps just a bit more mindful use of it can enhance a sense of well-being and relieve day-to-day stress. Our profession is dedicated to protecting sight and empowering lives, but this is only possible if we are in a state of well-being. Investing in ourselves is an investment in the longevity of our careers and the best outcomes for our patients.
During the 2020 Virtual Meeting, we were amazed and inspired by the talent we saw as videos were submitted to our Eye Play showcase. We decided to speak to some of the musicians and ask them about their relationship to music and the role it plays in their personal and professional lives. Their stories were music to our ears. Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce you to each of them, so don’t forget to tune in each week.
Unlike many young music students, Dr. Yang never had to be forced to take lessons or practice. She took to piano very early on with a renowned pianist Bernardo Segall and developed a life-long love of music and playing and interpreting her favorite pieces. This love ended up helping her get through medical school as she discovered its therapeutic ability. As we’ve seen in this series, she was not alone. In fact, even while she was in medical school, she wasn’t alone in using music as she ended up with a circle of friends who were also musicians. In both the mental and social aspects of this time, she believes she would’ve had a much more difficult time without music. Now in practice, Dr. Yang finds similarities between cataract surgery and playing the piano as they both require a lot of coordination between the hands, feet and eyes.
A casual observer might not see the connection, but musicians find music to be a connector between themselves, their craft, and even interests. A shared favorite song in the OR can connect the staff. A song can connect a listener to a different time and place. Dr. Yang believes that when a piece is created, composers have the opportunity to fully express their feelings and it comes through to the listener. As she lyrically put it, “It gets in your inner space.”
As we wrap up this series, Dr. Yang’s perspective may be the most succinct explanation for why music has the power it does and why we should use it as a musician or as a listener. What hangs in the balance is your wellness as a person and a physician. If a physician is well, their practice and patients benefit. And if this series has shown us anything, using music as a wellness tool can take a bit of exploration, but it sure is a fun way to get to wellness. If you need a place to start, Dr. Yang recommends Debussy’s “Clare de Lune,” Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu” and Debussy’s “Children’s Corner.” Happy listening!
Although Dr. Ong sings and plays the ukulele in this entertaining parody, she began her music education with the piano at 5 years old, added the violin in 6th grade, the viola in 7th grade, and the guitar and choir in middle school. With a breadth of musical education so early in life, it’s no wonder Dr. Ong understands the power of music. While her formal education ended after high school, she took her guitar with her and served as a musician at church wherever she went.
Dr. Ong submitted this video in the AAO 2020 Virtual Meeting talent show and it’s no surprise that it features Dr. Ong’s lyrical wit because she believes that lyrics give music an extra powerful command over emotions. She finds that lyrics — especially those of Christian music — can speak directly to her heart and can be calming in stressful situations like surgery. In fact, she often unknowingly sings along when music is playing in the OR, but far from being distracting, it serves to relax everyone and is a better environment than the anxiety of a silent room. Music is an emotional release, stress release, and relaxation tool before, during and after difficult situations and she encourages finding music with lyrics that speak to you. She loves genres with rich lyrics and often turns to Broadway, Disney and country tunes. One of her favorites: Lady Antebellum’s “Thy Will Be Done” .
On the topic of music and wellness, Dr. Chang is not only a believer, but also an evangelist. Although she’s an ophthalmologist working on the sense of sight, she has taken her love of music and 23 years of experience and is helping people through our sense of sound.
Dr. Chang is a first-year resident in ophthalmology but has been playing violin since the age of 4 and has performed internationally in world-renowned concert halls. She co-founded Virtual Bedside Concerts in April 2020 when, due to the pandemic, she was pulled off some clinical duties yet still wanted to help patients and perform. Over a year later, musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops and others across the country have contributed their talents toward the wellbeing of patients as well as families and healthcare workers... all of whom experienced isolation in some way or another over the last year and a half. According to a Boston 25 News story on Dr. Enchi, “The music is therapeutic for hospital staff, too. Doctors and nurses are also experiencing isolation, working long days away from family and feeling the effects of so much loss.”
As we’ve established in these profiles, music is truly a balm for many ills, including the daily stresses of a physician. Dr. Chang believes that the skills she learned from being a musician are similar to the skills she developed in medical school and they’re not only about the fine motor skills required to create in both disciplines. She believes that the talent is in the art of listening, reading people, and teamwork. She loves being able to make people happy and believes that music can help influence emotions in herself as she plays and in others who listen. Her own musical tastes lean mostly toward classical, but she also listens to Asian pop, soundtracks, and lo fi. She believes that music calms her, helps her work better when played in the background in the OR and helps relax patients in post-op. She encourages others to explore and find music that will help them in difficult situations and to recharge. To that end, her top 3 recommendations are: Beethoven’s “Symphony NO. 7: 2nd movement,” “Scheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov and “River Flows in You” by Yimura .
It’s enough for some people to imagine playing one instrument, but Dr. Bair plays two — at the same time. If you’re thinking that this must require a great deal of elasticity in your mind, you’d be right, but it also helps maintain a healthy mindset. Music — according to Dr. Bair — allows you to be creative and express yourself in ways you might not otherwise be able to, particularly as a physician. He finds that while the practice of medicine values the ability to keep emotions inside you, playing music allows its release and is a great way to express yourself.
There’s been a lot of time for Dr. Bair to get his relationship with music running smoothly. He began piano lessons at five years old and then shifted to trumpet, which he played through college. Throughout his life, he’s played at church, as a volunteer at a local hospital, and even took a year off between college and medical school to play with musical productions. He keeps things interesting by playing different styles of music — jazz and gospel for himself and tango with a band of other doctors — but is quick to say that one size does not fit all for music. This is particularly true when using it to shift your mood or mental state, which it can do as we saw in the videos referenced above. While it’s never too late to experience the benefits of learning a musical instrument, listening to music more often can help with stress management now and may also boost your memory later. Dr. Bair’s top three recommendations for relaxation and for exploring new genres of music are “Strasburg St. Denis” by Roy Hargrove, “Still Broke” by Samm Henshaw and “In the Court of King Oliver” by Wynton Marsalis”.
Music can sometimes be one of those things that is such a steady part of your life that you don’t notice how important it is. Not so for Dr. Liu. Apart from a hiatus during medical school, playing music has been a part of her life since she started piano and violin lessons as a child. When she started vocal lessons, music literally came out of her. Now, she doesn’t know how she’d function without music and it certainly helped her cope through the pandemic. Dr. Liu believes that singing works similarly to meditation in that you learn to forget about some thoughts so you can focus on your breath and feelings. She also believes that music offers a creative and emotional outlet that can be a powerful tool for ophthalmologists, who are very left-brained and logical. “When you let music consume you,” she said of both musicians and listeners, “You can return to work refreshed and with new perspectives.”
Dr. Liu encourages the use of music as a stress management tool. You don’t have to be a musician to reap the benefits of music. She enjoys listening to a variety of genres including classical music, opera, Top 40 and 50s/60s music. To start, try one of the top three recommendations at the end of a stressful day: “Dynamite” by BTS, “Beautiful Life” by Ace of Base or "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order.
Dr. Grace Lee - Brookline, MA
Dr. Lee started her relationship with music at five years old and like many relationships, it ebbed and flowed. She won state competitions and kept up with lessons through college, but not through medical school when her schedule didn’t leave much room for practice. However, she found that her deep relationship with music stayed with her and she found an old friend in it when she moved to Boston for a fellowship. In a new place with a stressful schedule and the slowness of creating a new circle of friends, music was a dependable companion. She took up playing again. Not only does she play, but she also listens to music regularly. She finds it a healthy escape. By allowing it to activate emotions, you can find something that can help you overcome stress. In fact, Dr. Lee is one of the ophthalmologists who plays music during surgery. With music, she finds the environment to be more relaxed and she thinks that it helps the patients, too.
Although she plays mostly classical music, she is a fan of a wide variety of music including K-pop. When asked for her top 3 songs to listen to after a stressful day and what she would recommend others to try, she included a song from a Korean TV series called “Song for My Brother” along with Chopin’s “Nocturne Op. 27 #2” and Franz Liszt’s “Liebestraum #3.
If you’re interested in further reading about music and its magical effect on our bodies and minds, here is some compelling research:
The Benefits of LIstening to Music (Healthline.com)
Keeping Your Brain Young with Music (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
The Impact of Music and Memory on Resident Level Outcomes in California Nursing Homes (The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine)
Music Activates Regions of Brain Spared By Alzheimer’s Disease (Health – University of Utah)
Music intervention to prevent delirium among older patients admitted to a trauma intensive care unit and a trauma orthopaedic unit (Honor Heath)
Individualized Music Program is Associated with Improved Outcomes for U.S. Nursing Home Residents with Dementia (Brown University – The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry)
International Journal of Neurorehabilitation (International Journal of Neurorehabilitation)
Repeated Exposure to Familiar Music Alters Functional Connectivity in Alzheimer’s Disease (Alzheimer’s Association)
Music Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease (American Parkinson Disease Association)