Association of Cameroonian Physicians in the Americas

    Houston physicians play music to help avoid burnout

    Physician burnout has become a major issue in recent years, but two Houston doctors play music in their off time to help buck that trend, starting with themselves.

    As the health care system has changed and physicians are required to do more and more amounts of administrative duties on top of patient care, more doctors are feeling the mental toll. According to the Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019, 44 percent of physicians in the U.S. are burned out, 11 percent are "colloquially depressed" (with feelings of being down and sad), and 4 percent are clinically depressed.

    Dr. Soham Roy, director of pediatric otolaryngology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and a member of UT Physicians, said while he greatly enjoys his work and helping his patients, the job can be difficult.

    "It's obviously, you know, mentally taxing, and it's very demanding work," the pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeon said. "It's long hours. You know, it's stressful: we take care of some really, really sick children here. And there's a lot of stress that goes along with that."

    He said another factor is the long hours that go way beyond seeing patients and operating, into meetings and administrative work that only seem to increase as one's career progresses. Even when Roy gets home, he often is answering emails for another hour or two or finishing up projects.

    Before he became a doctor, Roy played the violin semi-professionally. To diversify his skills and broaden his income base as a musician, he picked up the piano, guitar and bass guitar. Years later, he still loves to jam his bass and cover rock hits with his band, Voodoo Dolls. Roy has played his violin at a lot of friends' and physicians' weddings across the country as well. Music helps him blow off steam, find perspective and forget about what's going on at his work.

    "If I've had a bad week at work, you know, if I've got a Saturday night gig, it kind of clears your head for a few hours. You just go and focus on playing: you want to play well, you want to do a good job and have a good time. You want to please your bandmates and please the audience."

    Roy said his finding an outlet in music is hardly unique though, that most doctors have some sort of passion apart from medicine such as athletics, music or family. And that's important, he said.

    Dr. Mark Dannenbaum, an assistant professor of neurosurgery with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and a member of UT Physicians, started playing the drums around 1985 and for a long time wanted to go to music school. When he ended up with a stress fracture playing high school football, his doctor advised him to keep at the drums and drop the football, "You're going to have those drums forever." That doctor was right.

    Now a brain surgeon, Dannenbaum said playing drums with the Houston Community College Jazz Big Band and other various gigs helps him relax and cope with the daily stresses of the job.

    "At the end of a long day, you know, coming home and some of the stuff we have to deal with, whether it's someone who's had a ruptured brain aneurism or someone that's had a gunshot wound to the head or dealing with families who are sad about some of these devastating life events they have to deal with, you know, it's nice to be able to decompress and just get out there to a nice jam session."

    On occasion, Dannenbaum and Roy have even jammed together with a group of other musical doctors. Dannenbaum added that the creativity of making music helps to stimulate his brain and problem-solving skills. But for him, playing music is only part of the picture. When he operates, he hates to hear suction sounds and machine beeps but said he needs music in the background to function well, especially at the very busy Memorial Hermann.

    "The long and short of it is, you know, music helps me survive that milieu because it's a very fast-paced, tense environment," Dannenbaum said.

    Roy said he sees burnout all the time in physicians he works with and that it is critical for them to realize that their whole identity is not tied up exclusively in their career but as a husband, wife, son, daughter, friend, etc. He said as a medical industry leader, Houston is a great place to start better addressing physician burnout.

    "I think with this being a thriving medical community and certainly the Texas Medical Center being the beacon of shining light around the world for medical care, this is a place where we have an opportunity to address a lot of those factors for burnout and help physicians find healthy coping mechanisms and ways to address those stressors."


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