By Christina Drain
Beautiful harmony resonated as the a cappella group UltraSound began Ohio State’s beloved alma mater Carmen Ohio in the foyer of Meiling Hall.
Second verse — well, not quite the same as the first.
OSU College of Medicine second-year student Sanjay Mohan began beatboxing a vocal rhythm at double-time and the group joined in, to the delight of the attendees at the recent COM Student Wellness Fair.
(Audio of live performance of Carmen, Ohio by UltraSound at the COM Student Wellness Fair.)
The a cappella group is one of nearly a dozen student groups in the Medicine and the Arts program, designed to bring humanism into the medical program and to provide healthy diversions for stressed medical students.
A recent study by the Mayo Clinic revealed that 45.8 percent of the 7,288 physicians who completed the study reported at least one symptom of burnout — a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of depersonalization or a low sense of personal accomplishment. The overall burnout rate of US workers was about 28 percent.
Physicians on the front lines — family medicine, general internal medicine and emergency medicine — were most affected.
Researchers suggest that burnout may have detrimental effects on professionalism, the quality of care and the risk of medical errors.
The Medicine and the Arts program was developed in 2009 to provide ways to come together through the visual and performing arts, as well as establish ties with the local art community.
The program teaches students life skills to cope with challenging situations, says Eileen Mehl, director of Student Engagement at the OSU College of Medicine.
“There’s a lot of literature out there about burnout with both students and physicians in all levels of training,” Mehl said. “Being in touch with things they love is one of the ways to avoid that, to have some sort of balance in their lives.”
The program is part of the Humanism in Medicine Initiative, designed to teach health professionals how to build relationships with their patients.
“The program also helps them relate to patients because it takes them out of the ‘medical-speak’ area and puts them back with their human side, that helped develop them as the individuals who were accepted into medical school because they were compassionate individuals,” Mehl said.
Medical students have formed clubs ranging from the a cappella group and an orchestra to visual arts, such as photography and a visual arts magazine. A dance group explores various forms from line dance and ballet to jazz and Indian dance; they both dance and see performances as a group. Other clubs were formed for poetry and writing.
Medical student Catharine Collier co-founded the COM Orchestra, a group of about 60 medical students, staff and faculty interested in performing for pleasure. They meet Thursday evenings to rehearse.
“I was looking for a way to be able to play my cello again, but in an atmosphere that was flexible and understanding to the time demands of a medical student,” Collier said.
The orchestra made its first appearance in December and is now preparing for a performance in April at Second Look Weekend for a new class of medical students.
UltraSound, numbering 20-30 medical students, is probably the busiest of the clubs, with 10-15 performances a year, from performances at the medical school to Christmas caroling in the James and Ross Heart Hospital, according to medical student Wil Santivasi.
Two of the medical school’s largest events come this spring: Nite Out April 26-27, a variety show where medical students showcase their talents in dance, comedy and music to benefit the student-run Columbus Free Clinic; and the student, faculty and staff art show, which opens March 5.
The program is supported by administrators from the top down. Steven Gabbe, senior vice president for Health Services and CEO of the Wexner Medical Center, recently presented a musical presentation on “The Women of Country Music,” with personal anecdotes from his years as dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.
“When you practice medicine, it’s very easy to become totally centered on medicine,” Gabbe said. “But what you realize is that if you do that you are not going to be a very full person and you are not going to be as able to care for your patients because you want to have a broader sense of what’s happening in society, in culture and your patients will as well.”