Year : 2013 | Volume
: 26 | Issue : 2 | Page : 133--134
In the news! an opinion: "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain"*
Jan van Dalen
Associate Editor, Education for Health
|How to cite this article:|
Dalen Jv. In the news! an opinion: "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain"*.Educ Health 2013;26:133-134
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Dalen Jv. In the news! an opinion: "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain"*. Educ Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2021 Jan 26 ];26:133-134
Available from: https://www.educationforhealth.net/text.asp?2013/26/2/133/120709
Regularly I speak with a friend who is a guitar and bass-maker. He observed that many of his customers are doctors, and he would have wanted to be a doctor had he not been what he is. It struck him that it appears healthcare professionals have a stronger attraction to performing music than people from other professions.
He is not alone in this observation. We all know musicians who are doctors and doctors who are musicians. This coincidence has also been described in our health professions education community, by Weisz and Albury, for example,  who suggested the phrase "medico-artistic phenomenon: Medicine as a profession tends to attract a notable proportion of individuals who are also active in the arts." Moreover, they state that individuals who engage in both forms of activity find the interaction between them beneficial. They conclude their paper with a plea to include practical art training in the medical curriculum.
A year and a half ago, McLellan et al. addressed "music and health" in Advances in Health Sciences Education.  In an eloquently written paper, they addressed the question: How can music heal? They explored the experiences of musicians with lay or professional interests in health. Music was reported to affect people's identity and emotions. Music was described as a communication medium, which could make people feel less isolated. A transport metaphor was often used: Music could "take people to better places." Their findings are supported by performing artists' opinions, like Billy Joel's quote: "I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music." 
Just recently, in an interestingly rich paper published in Medical Education, Watling et al., took this topic further by discussing a comparison of music's with medicine's learning culture. The authors justify a comparison of music with medical training because both train individuals to perform by engaging specialized skills in specific settings. Focus group discussions and individual interviews were conducted with undergraduate music students, senior medical students, and residents in a variety of disciplines. Some differences were found between the two learning cultures. Medicine seemed to value learning by doing, whereas music training valued learning by lesson. Another striking difference was that medical learners identified competence as their goal, while music students judged this as unsatisfactory; they wanted to be good.
Some comments are in order. Representatives of the two professions engaged in discussions separately. There are good reasons for that, which probably outweigh the disadvantages. However, given this study design, it cannot be ruled out that similarities between the learning cultures could be masked by semantics. "Competence" in medical education jargon is a well-known concept that over the years has lost the common connotation of competent as: "Not good/adequate." It is not clear if both professions use the word competence similarly.
Moreover, since the participants themselves may not be able to make informed comparisons between the two cultures, they necessarily limit themselves to describing their own learning context. Much of the analysis of the differences between music and medicine is resting on the interpretations by the researchers, more so than in most qualitative research where respondents are from more homogeneous groups. A final limitation of the study, which was gracefully acknowledged by the authors, is that it was conducted in a limited context, so that the recommendations had to be cautiously phrased.
When presenting their results, the authors focused on the different outcomes, whereas their analysis also revealed some common ground between the two professional cultures. I regret this focus on the differences, because I think that in good medical training and good music training there are many more similarities than differences.
Think about the emergence of clinical skills training centers in medical school. They can be viewed as a result of the emerging insight that knowledge and skills go together and should be addressed in conjunction. Skills training by itself is inert and less useful, compared with when it is integrated with theory and interpretation. Practice receives its relevance and context from theory, just like it provides context and relevance to the acquisition of knowledge.
Now compare this to the high attrition rates in professional music training. The complaint that I most often hear from people who drop out of conservatory is that they lost joy in playing by focusing on the technique. The "skills" of handling the instrument to perfection receives almost exclusive attention, and listening skills (initially) and interpretation (later) is represented less in professional music training.
If we were to use the best of both these worlds, would we not help learners to become the best professionals? They would be excellent craftsmen who would be able to listen and interpret? Just like musicians, doctors need to be good instrumentalists as well as excellent listeners and interpreters.
I sincerely hope that Watling et al.'s next paper will help us appreciate the similarities in the learning cultures of music and medicine.  This will help us shape a curriculum of which our graduates will be harmoniously and melodically skilled performers!
Jan van Dalen
Associate Editor, Education for Health
|1||Weisz GM, Albury WR. The medico-artistic phenomenon and its implications for medical education. Med Hypotheses 2010;74:169-73.|
|2||McLellan L, McLachlan E, Perkins L, Dornan T. Muscci and health. Phenomenological investigation of a medical humanity. Adv Health Sci Educ 2013;18:167-70.|
|3||Joel B. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2013. Available from: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/billyjoel133275.html. [Last accessed on 2013 July 19].|
|4||Watling C, Driessen E, van der Vleuten CP, Vanstone M, Lingard L. Music lessons: Revealing medicine′s learning culture through a comparison with that of music. Medl Educ 2013;47:842-50.|