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Pulse - Summer 2019 Music & Medicine: A Band Is Born

Med School Survival Guide (l-r): Jared Weiss, Wesley Goodman-Levy, Alexander Benson

Med School Survival Guide (l-r): Jared Weiss, Wesley Goodman-Levy, Alexander Benson

Alex Benson, MD '19, and Jared Weiss, MD '19, met during medical school orientation. During their very first conversation, they began talking about their musical interests, a conversation that continued throughout their first year. Finally, Benson asked Weiss, "Do you want to start a band?"

"I looked at him like he had three heads," recalls Weiss. "We were medical students. Who had time for that stuff? But Alex convinced me that it would be a good idea." They would have a larger goal: to help medical students, physicians, health professionals and patients navigate the medical field and deal with their frustrations and challenges.

"Music has always been a creative outlet and emotional release for me," says Weiss. "I hoped that others might find an outlet for their stress and burnout through our music. We named the band ‘Medical Student Survival Guide,' and we set about recruiting members."

They found Wesley Goodman-Levy, Class of 2020, through a Facebook ad. Coincidentally, Weiss had been tutoring Goodman-Levy in anatomy prior to interviewing him as a potential band mate. "I was dumbfounded that two worlds could collide like that at medical school," says Goodman-Levy.

The group added a fourth member, Mitchell Parker, an MD/PhD student, and performed for the first time in 2017 at the College of Medicine's annual Pediatric AIDS Benefit Concert. Since then, the band has performed each year at the benefit — with musicians rotating in and out in sync with their clinical rotations. Other members have included Brendan McCreath, Class of 2021, and Orchideh Abar, William Foos, Vinesh Anandarajan and Dave Fitzgerald, all Class of 2020.

This year, Benson and Weiss returned from away rotations to reunite with Goodman-Levy in January for the Pediatric AIDS Benefit. In April, the three played at Rockin' Docs for Diabetes Cure, a fundraiser featuring physician-led bands, held at World Café Live in Philadelphia.

The trio describe their original music as classic rock influenced by Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads and Jethro Tull. The lyrics come straight from their experience. Among the songs written by Weiss is "Numbers," which, he explains, "talks about the fact that we often have to focus on data rather than patients in order to keep up with the pace of hospital work, and that can become very frustrating":

"I'll listen to your heart if it speaks to me in lines
Twelve conversations plotted on a chart
And when you zigzag I can keep it all straight
Just doing what I can to play my part.
But please don't tell me how you feel
Cause there's a lot of you and only one of me
And I will do what I can do
But there are so many numbers that I have to see."

In "Face the Fire," Benson talks about the challenges faced by medical students, especially when they first start clinical rotations:

"Remember when you used to fear
But you took the plunge when you came here
No time to panic, don't second guess
Or you'll wind up burning like all the rest
And the fire grows
Face the fire
There's no turning back
Face the fire
It's time to let it grow."

In "Patient Man," Goodman-Levy addresses the relationships that are often left behind when a person jumps into the rigors of medical school or the medical profession:

"I don't know what I see in your eyes
Is everything gonna be alright?
Oh it's a cold world when I'm alone
Sky turns gray on that airport drive
I feel your hand pull away from mine
When will we know? If it's time to let go.
You know that I'm a patient man
Still hold a candle for you,
But my flame is burning low
And I'm going from red to blue."

Med School Survival Guide on stage at Rockin' Docs for Diabetes Cure

Med School Survival Guide on stage at Rockin' Docs for Diabetes Cure

Benson and Weiss survived medical school, and have moved on to residency programs, both in psychiatry, at Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts and Zucker Hillside Hospital, Queens, respectively. "We hope the band continues in some way," says Benson. "Studies show that physicians who escape burnout make better choices clinically and ethically. Music is a great way to do that."

Goodman-Levy is currently working on his master's in public health at Drexel, after which he will finish medical school and graduate with a dual MD/MPH degree. "I'm not sure if Med School Survival Guide will make an appearance at any events this year or next, but the growth I've experienced in doing it these last three years has been astronomical," he says. He's also working on another band — The Wellies.

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