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Making Music in Medical School

At Michigan Medical School, we are constantly reminded to carve out time for ourselves to maintain self-wellness in whatever shape or form that may be for each individual. To me, that means playing ultimate frisbee, hanging out with friends, jamming in my car, and taking plentiful power naps. For others it means journaling, creating and performing music, or crafting various mediums of art.

I never thought I could tap into these more artistic forms of wellness until I received an e-mail toward the beginning of my M1 year advertising a beginners’ medical arts piano class. It was a class designed specifically for medical students who had zero or minimal background in playing piano. I lit up upon reading this – it was like the class had been crafted specifically for my tone-deaf, minimal-background-in-middle-school-flute self! The class was sponsored by the School’s Medical Arts Program, which is directed by Dr. Joel Howell. The Medical Arts Program hosts a multitude of events throughout the year, including trips to museums and concerts, dinners with notable composers and artists, and hands-on workshops.

So, each Friday evening for 12 weeks throughout the fall semester, I made the short trip to the School of Music, Theatre & Dance for the group piano lesson. The class was taught by Annie Jeng, a PhD piano student at U of M. The pupils consisted of medical students representing all four classes, and even a GI fellow who made time for the class! Each week we took a few more steps (and leaps) towards learning how to read a grand staff, keep rhythm, and play scales and chords. Annie would also throw in some lessons on the history of the piano and samplings of contemporary composers. At the end of the class, we each picked a solo piece and hosted a mini recital for ourselves. After this beginners’ piano boot camp, I was proudly able to perform a version of Für Elise by Beethoven (with foot pedal, might I add).

This class offered me the opportunity to step away each week for a scheduled one and a half hours from the mayhem that is medical school. At first, I was thankful for the opportunity to immerse myself in a world that seemed so completely distinct from what I was learning in lecture. However, throughout the class we made connections between the medical and musical worlds that made me realize these two realms of my life did not have to be so separate. After each lesson, I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle the hours of studying ahead of me.

I am still blown away by the dedication of the Medical School and the Medical Arts Program to provide students with means of balancing their academic and extracurricular pursuits, and allowing students to improve ourselves not only as physicians but as human beings throughout our years in medical school.

Hanna Berlin is a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. She is interested in women’s health and serves on the leadership for SafeMD, the American Medical Women’s Association, and Women’s Health and Fitness Day.