Fall 2016
Students, Faculty Bring Music to Medicine

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Jennifer Hagen, Kevin Swanson and Kevin Facemyer.

From left, Jennifer Hagen, M.D.'93, Kevin Swanson, Class of 2019 and Kevin Facemyer, Ph.D. gather outside of class time to connect via music. Photo by James Rutter.

Story by James Rutter

During the 2015-2016 school year, students at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine created the Music in Medicine Interest Group as a fun and expressive way to de-stress from the daily trials of medical school and connect with their peers and professors.

The group, which meets once a month in the student lounge of the William N. Pennington Health Sciences building, was initiated by Lauran Evans, Class of 2019, who has been playing the trumpet and piano since elementary school.

"I did band all through middle school and high school, and I joined the marching band at USC," Evans said. "When I came to medical school, I didn't want to lose music, and I thought that maybe there were other students who felt the same."

Evans soon discovered she was right, as told by classmate and group member, Kevin Swanson, a music and Spanish major during his undergrad years at the University of Nevada, Reno. He explained that after graduation, he taught English in Spain for a while, before realizing that he wanted to come back and study medicine. Like Evans, Swanson also wanted to keep his musical interest alive.

"Lauran came up to me super-excited, saying ‘hey, I want to start this music group,' and we didn't know what that would mean or what sort of music group it would be, but I said, ‘okay, sure,'" Swanson explained.

"And as soon as the semester started, Lauran hit the ground running, recruiting and finding professors who are also musicians and share that same passion."

One of the professors brought on by Evans, Joshua Bardin, M.D., became the group's faculty advisor. He sees music as a common, fun way to get to know his students.

"Getting to know them outside of class, and to play music with them, is very intellectually stimulating and rewarding," said Bardin.

Bardin also sees music frequently intertwined with the study of medicine. He often opens group meetings with presentations on famous musicians and composers, many of whom had medical conditions that enhanced their musical capabilities.

"One way is to discuss some of the well-known performers or composers who had medical conditions that probably helped them musically, such as (composer) Sergei Rachmaninoff. He had Marfan's Syndrome, which results in a number of skeletal abnormalities including very large hands."

In addition to advising the group, Bardin, who plays clarinet, is also one of a handful of faculty who play music with the students.

"It is a great way to interact with, and get to know, your professors, and see a different side of them," Swanson said.

"They're very different giving lecture than when they're playing music."

Jennifer Hagen, M.D.‘93, plays the violin and is another faculty member who enjoys getting to know students through music. She believes the group is an important outlet for students to express themselves, and unplug from constant study.

"Some of the stuff that we deal with in class is very intense, like when we're learning about people's suffering through disease. Art can be an outlet to express some of that emotion and maintain our own humanity," Hagen said.

Hagen's perspective appears to be a common theme shared by faculty and student group members alike. Music as an expressive medium, to decompress from school, express the self and connect with others are the core values that drive the Music in Medicine Interest Group.

"We're here to become well-rounded physicians and people. I think medical students get really stressed out, and this is a really good way to relax and connect with music and each other, that you might not get anywhere else," Evans said.

"Some people might think that art is not related to medicine, or not necessary for medical students, but I think it's vital for everyone."

Interested UNR Med faculty and student instrumentalists/vocalists may contact Lauran Evans at laurane@med.unr.edu for additional information.