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Medical students unwind with music

Michael Iannuzzi, MD, was lecturing medical students on cardiology, using musical excerpts in his presentation of how to listen to heart sounds. He asked for a show of hands: How many students had taken music lessons?

About three quarters of the students raised their hands.

“I was a bit surprised at just how high the percentage of students who took music lessons was, but it does make sense to me,” says Iannuzzi, the chairman of the Upstate‘s Department of Medicine.

“These students are highly competitive, and most come from families who invest resources in their children‘s success. These types of families view music lessons as a way to enrich their children‘s education,” he says.

Music lessons teach discipline, and discipline helps develop high college grade point averages and impressive scores on the medical college admissions test.

“Music provides many benefits,” Iannuzzi says. “Graduate school, particularly medical school, is stressful. Music helps reduce stress and is mood-altering. Because of the amount of work that is expected of students, students often feel dehumanized. Music helps feed their soul.”

Students find ways to wedge music into their schedules. Some are involved in a music and medicine initiative that would support research into music therapy and efforts to make pianos and other instruments available to students, patients and doctors. Some perform in vocal groups or bands. Some play alone, to break up study time and stay in touch with themselves.

Meet seven future doctors who love music:

Medical students unwind with musicUKELELE

Dan Harris, 24, from Wellsville

 How he got started: “I stumbled upon a cheap soprano ukelele in my attic back home, while looking for a bowling ball and brought it back for my last semester of college. A jazz pianist friend of mine helped me learn some basic music theory, so I was able to figure out how to play chords on the ukelele.”

Watch his television interview.

How he hopes to use it in medicine: “I‘m curious about using sing-a-longs (a la Pete Seeger), rhythm workshops and easy instrument lessons in music therapy, as well as harmonicas in respiratory therapy.”


Bradley Klein, 24, from Commack, NY

Why music is part of his life: “Music means everything. It is what I turn to during the best and the worst of times. Whether it be classical music, jazz or heavy metal, there is always some sort of music I can rely on to get me through the day.”

How he fits music into his day: “I watch YouTube videos and DVDs of the great pianists performing. When I become desperate for a quick fix, I take out sheet music and practice on my desk, playing along with an audio version of the same piece.”


Rhonda Diescher, 25, from Cortland

Her background: She has performed all over the world, including at Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, the Kennedy Center and the Carrier Dome, twice, where she sang the National Anthem.

Why music is part of her life: “When I start singing a great song, it‘s like I am worlds away from a hard test, a bad grade, a bad breakup or a patient that can‘t be helped. Also, I feel like music helps keep me connected to my humanity and the part of me that cares about people -- ultimately what I think will make me a good doctor.”


Sam Schueler, 24, from Camillus

Why music is part of his life: “Playing piano for 15 minutes clears my head and reminds me that growth in areas outside of medicine is important in becoming a complete person.”

How he fits music into his day: “A few of my classmates and I started a band. While we practice somewhat sporadically and have never performed, jamming for a few hours is a lot of fun and gets out minds out of the books for a while.”

Medical students unwind with musicPIANO

Chethan Sarabu, 25, from New Hartford

Why he chose piano: “There‘s something really special about the piano, because you have to integrate your left and right hands together. It‘s also very relaxing to be playing. It‘s something that helps take your mind away from all of the stress.” He also played trombone in his high school jazz band.

Hear Sarabu interviewed on Health Link on Air radio

 Why he likes jazz: “You really have to improvise, but at the same time be part of a group.”

How he fits music into his day: He studies near a piano in the Upstate Golisano Children‘s Hospital, so he can take 5-minute piano breaks.


Emily Cupelo, 24, from Syracuse

How piano helped her education: “With just 88 keys there are infinite possibilities to create anything that you want. Being a scientific-minded person, having an outlet to explore creativity definitely helped me to think about things in different ways and to use my imagination.”

Why she continues to play: “I can ‘zone out‘ and just channel my feelings into whatever song I am playing. It‘s almost like I am not thinking, and can detach my mind and just relax by playing piano.”


Kasandra Scales, 30, from Detroit

Her background: “Though I was never formally trained, I developed an ear for music. Growing up in a small Baptist church around so many who were trained shaped my voice into what it is today.”

One memorable performance: “At the end of our first year of medical school, each class puts together a program to celebrate the lives of our anatomical donors, to show our appreciation to their families. I chose to sing an acapella gospel song that I would often sing to myself to comfort me after the loss of my aunt two years earlier.

“In the audience was one of our custodians, whose loved one had passed away and donated his body. A few weeks later he saw me in the hall and told me how much that song meant to him, and from then on we became friends.”