Music elective enhances medicine studies

Studying medicine can leave minimal time for personal development or creative pursuits, but diversion into the arts can have many benefits for budding doctors, as students in a new Flinders University music elective are discovering.

‘Ectopic Beats’ is the product of the Music for Health elective for second-year students, being piloted this semester as part of a new, compulsory Personal and Professional Development (PPD) component in Flinders’ Doctor of Medicine.

As producer of around half of South Australia’s medicine graduates, Flinders University has enormous responsibility ensuring tomorrow’s doctors have the clinical and academic training to prepare them for their future training and careers.

However there is more to succeeding in the demanding field of medicine, with personal skills like relationship building and reflection, together with ethical considerations and managing a work-life balance, critical.

The brainchild of PPD coordinator Dr Maxine Moore, the elective range was introduced for second-year students in 2018. They comprise medical humanities, an interdisciplinary field using arts and social science concepts in the context of medical education and practice.

Ectopic Beats rehearsing in the Flinders Tavern ahead of their performance on 1 June 2018.

Dr Moore says the Music for Health elective is founded on research that supports the positive connection between musical practice and medicine. “As with the other electives, it complements broad appreciation of medicine as an ‘art’ that requires scientific knowledge and technical skills, balanced by practical reasoning and wisdom based on experience and judgement.”

She has experienced enormous benefits herself from regularly playing an instrument. “It’s helped my memory, cognitive skills, self-regulation, and mental health and wellbeing.”

“I wanted to provide similar opportunity for the medical student cohort, as well as foster interpersonal and collaborative skills,” Dr Moore says.

Students in the elective – nine in the current course – form a band and attend practices and performances. Their second gig will be at the Flinders Tavern at the University’s Bedford Park campus on Friday evening, 1 June 2018, with a set that includes Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Maroon 5 covers.

Below, students practice in the Flinders Tavern ahead of Friday’s performance.

Ectopic Beat members including Victoria, Lawson and Dan, play a variety of instruments and share the vocals. They agree on the benefits of the elective.

Victoria says the group includes amateurs and seasoned players, much like the diverse experiences they will encounter in the workplace – “We’re learning to work in a practical setting with people with different skill levels, which can be translated to the hospital floor later.”

Lawson appreciates the relaxation aspects, together with the communication skills that are important for dealing with colleagues and patients. “Working in a team helps build skills in a lot of areas such as patience; dealing with the little issues that can come up.”

Dan has performed publicly before, playing the flamenco and Spanish guitar, but put his music on hold with the demands of his medicine studies. “I’m enjoying it so much I’ve started creating time for it again.”

He says he expected medicine to be intense, but has found it eye-opening in terms of the amount of work required and the music practice is a healthy complement to the demands of the program.

“This elective is first thing on a Monday morning which is great. It sets us up for the week, eases you in from the weekend,” Dan says.

The elective is run by Dr Alice Orchard, a former student of the Adelaide Conservatorium who is a regular performer on the live circuit.

“Regular music practice, and especially singing, helps to develop listening and communication skills which are so necessary in the health professions, as well as having a positive effect on personal wellbeing,” Dr Orchard says.

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