Each Tuesday, the music therapy department partners with Musicians on Call
(MOC) to bring volunteer musicians into the hospital to play for patients and families. Two of our volunteers are also resident physicians here at Benioff Children's Hospital - San Francisco!
Check out this interview by music therapist Jenny Goldhammer with Dr. Jean Junior
and Dr. Nicholas Stark
, who share their thoughts on what it’s like to be both a doctor and a musician in our hospital.
Jenny - What sparked your interest in volunteering for Musicians On Call?
It kind of combined interests of mine both for service and for music and a way to keep up performing. So it felt like a good fit. When I found out that it would be at the hospital where I would be spending my time it seemed like it would work really well with my life and my schedule.
Halfway through undergrad my grandfather had a really bad stroke. And one thing I would do when I would go home to visit was play music for him. And I noticed that music was one thing that really seemed to lift his spirits…he would act more engaged and it was one of the few times I would see him crack a smile. So that was the first time I realized “oh, music can really help people feel a lot better”, and I knew it made me feel better, but that was one of the first times I saw it in more of a healthcare medical context.
So at the beginning of med school I decided to, for whatever reason, run a marathon on every continent, and I wanted to use that to somehow support hospital music programs. So I found MOC online and decided to form a partnership with them for this marathon initiative to raise money and help augment their hospital programs across the country. I started volunteering with them shortly after.
Jenny - And did you run a marathon on every continent? Even Antarctica?
I did, including Antarctica! I ran beside some penguins and seals…it was awesome.
Jenny - Is there an experience you’ve had as a volunteer that really had an impact on you?
There’s actually one that has stuck with me for a few years now, when I was at Children’s National in DC. It was a young girl and her mom. I asked the girl what kind of song she would like to hear, and she didn’t really respond to me--her mom said that she hadn’t been responding to much of anything in the past few weeks so mom picked a song for her. I played a song from Frozen and about halfway through the song the girl started to clap and kind of sing along, which was great, and I looked over at her mom and she was crying. And so we finished the song and I asked the mom if she was ok--she tearfully explained that that was the first time her daughter had interacted with anything, anyone in a couple of weeks…and it was a really profound moment that continued to shape my perception of the importance of music and the arts in healthcare. Just recognizing how it can really impact patients and their wellbeing and their healing process.
So there have been patients who I’ve known for a long time and seen them in the hospital where they and their parents were just facing very challenging situations and everyone was just struggling.
Jenny - And this was in your role as a doctor?
That was in my role as a doctor. And months into when I knew them I ended up playing music for them and I just got this whole other vision of what they and their lives were like. Really warm, cool, funny, joyful people…which you know already as a doctor and you know that’s there, but sometimes in the grind of things in the hospital we aren’t able to help that come out. Really, some of the most warm greetings that I’ve gotten in rooms has been in my role as a clarinetist rather than as a doctor--you just see people come to life in their truest selves and it’s beautiful. I think that those types of sessions are really special for me because I don’t get to see that on a daily basis.
Jenny - I think that’s so powerful to show the impact of seeing them through a different lens…
It really changes both the way you see families and the way families see you. So it’s been very powerful and a really wonderful way to experience the hospital.
Jenny - What’s it like in this dual role that you’re in now? You’re a resident here, and you’re also volunteering with us and MOC. Has your experience as a musician impacted your role as a doctor, or vice versa?
I think they definitely impact each other in a really good way. I think working with MOC and playing music here has really helped increase my empathy and my view of patients as a whole person. Especially in the ED (Emergency Department), it becomes very easy to look at patients as their disease process and the emergent next steps you need to do to correct that process and keep them safe. But that is a lot of times very numbers based, very algorithmic, and it’s pretty easy to lose touch with the human aspect of the care we provide. One of my favorite things about MOC and playing here is I walk into rooms with no medical background and I get to just see them and their family members for who they are as people—I don’t have to be looking at monitors and lab values and instead just get to connect with them in a very personal deep way. It’s really refreshing and I think it helps broaden my perspective. And it definitely impacts my encounters working clinically--it helps me think a little more holistically and approach things from the medical side but also taking into account that human aspect. Having this type of interaction with patients reminds me of a big part of why I went into medicine and healthcare and kind of helps tap back into that really deep human connection.
I think there is definitely synergy there and things that I learned from being in this dual role. I think one thing, I’m not just saying this because you’re interviewing me, but really is just learning what an important and meaningful role the music therapists and child life specialists and chaplains play in the hospital. And really if I want to get a pulse of the overall state of the hospital is I get that most from MOC. There’s just like a zeitgeist of the hospital that you can pick up when you go around in this non clinical non unit based role and you can feel the energy of the hospital more.
Jenny - It’s a different pace than your normal rotation.
yeah the pace is so different. When I am in a hospital as a resident, I am on the move and boy you better watch out because I have a motor…You don’t always have a time to stop and take a breath and you know, feel what’s going on.
Jenny - I feel that way too sometimes! But in the moment, making music, I feel like time stops a little bit.
I think that patients seem to really appreciate people who do have a dual role because being a patient can be very dehumanizing, and to have someone who really truly sees you outside of that and yet is still able to serve you in the hospital is special for them. They show a different side of themselves and I’m with them in a different way…it really strengthens bonds between me and families.
Jenny - You’re meeting them in this very different space. I remember you making a comment to me once like, “I feel like I did more for that patient as a musician than I did as her doctor”
Yes, there are definitely cases like that.
Jenny - That was so profound to me. Sometimes that’s the way in and the way to be with people, and the way to support them the most.
It’s really true. It’s made my life better as a resident.
Jenny - Any favorite songs you like to play?
I actually really love Frozen and Moana…literally on my last vacation at home I saw the Moana movie after playing the song so many times and the songs just have such a good message of just being who you are and being proud of that and I think that’s a great message for children and adults alike.
Whatever I can get kids clapping and singing to. Moana has been a big hit for me lately, a couple Taylor Swift songs… As far as slower songs, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which I love singing to like a baby who’s sleeping. I think it’s more calming to the parents than anyone else but that can be really powerful.
Jenny - Any last thoughts on music or music therapy in the hospital?
I appreciate all you guys do. It’s a vital piece of the healthcare puzzle.
Oh I love music therapy. Literally as a second or first year resident I started doing this thing where there’d be a situation where we’d be like “we need child life STAT, or music therapy STAT” because sometimes the situation just calls for that…sometimes what we have [as doctors] just isn’t getting at the underlying issue at hand that’s causing the suffering.