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The Heart of BIDMC

Docs Who Rock


The Poor Historians

The Rolling Stones' song "Time Is On My Side" doesn't really ring true for medical residents. The long hours training to become licensed physicians leave little time for a life outside of work. But for five second-year Internal Medicine residents at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), there's always time for music.

"Just being able to get together and play is so relaxing for all of us," says Kevin Selby, MD, Junior Internal Medicine Resident and keyboardist. "It's a great outlet to get rid of the stress of the job, the long hours and all of that."

Selby, along with his fellow residents-- guitarist and vocalist John Mafi, MD, guitarist Jason Choi, MD, guitarist Rob Stavert, MD, percussionist Matt Niemi, MD, drummer Ian McCormick, MD, and bassist Make Andreoli, a fourth-year med student at Boston University-- make up the rock band The Poor Historians.

"I played in bands during college and med school in Cleveland and Chicago," says singer and guitarist John Mafi, MD. "I missed playing, but I didn't envision starting a band. I just wanted a bunch of guys to jam with and let off steam."

Mafi found his future band mates during intern orientation at BIDMC. After hearing a few interns say they played instruments, he sent an email to the intern listserv at the hospital seeking interns interested in making music. And The Poor Historians were born.

The band plays mostly rock and blues-influenced songs by artists like Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, U2, and Prince, and even writes some original music. But how do they find time to practice and perform at local nightclubs when they're working so many hours at the hospital?

"We've all got so much going on, it's sometimes hard to make it to practice, so we often rehearse without the full lineup," admits percussionist Niemi. "But the other residents have been very generous and supportive and are willing to switch on-call nights when we need to practice or do a show."

In September, The Poor Historians used their talents for music and medicine for a good cause, performing at a benefit for the Haitian relief efforts via BIDMC's Grateful Nation. Hospital staff and resident colleagues came out in full force to support the band of doctor-musicians. That benefit, combined with another event the band played last spring, raised more than $2,200 for Haiti.

"We knew the people who were going down to Haiti to use the money and knowing exactly where it was going reassured us that it was going to be well used for the BIDMC clinics down there. To combine that all into one fantastic night was really satisfying," says Mafi.

But where does the band name come from?

"It's sort of an inside joke," explains drummer Ian McCormick, MD. "When a patient is fuzzy or confused about what brought them in to see you, the clinician will often begin the chart by noting that, tongue-in-cheek, 'the patient is a poor historian."

The band's patients also benefit from their doctors' musical abilities. Dr. Mafi remembers a night in the ICU when an elderly patient was delirious, agitated and trying to run out of the hospital.

"No matter what we did he wouldn't calm down," recalls Mafi. "He had a guitar in his room because he loved to play, so I picked up the guitar and started singing. The patient stopped what he was doing, calmed down and listened to me playing. He really liked it."

There's growing evidence that music is an extremely powerful part of the healing process. A recent study by the Cochrane Review looked at data from eight different studies and found that patients on assisted breathing who listened to music had lower heart rates, breathing rates, less anxiety and better outcomes.

In the case of the Poor Historians, both the patients and the doctors are being helped by the power of music.

"It's easy to forget how music can heal," notes Dr. Mafi. "There's a special kind of relaxation when you're engrossed in playing a rhythm or singing a harmony. Every muscle in your body relaxes and you just feel a natural high. It's really therapeutic for all of us."

Since starting the band, the doctors have become rock stars of sorts at the hospital.

"I don't know about rock stars, but we do get stopped occasionally at the hospital and asked when we're going to be playing again," says Mafi.

The Poor Historians are in the process of booking a gig at the legendary Middle East club in Cambridge this spring. In the meantime, the doctors who rock will continue to balance their passion for healing with their passion for music.

"There's a personal satisfaction in both medicine and music that is very powerful," admits Mafi. "My dream is to combine all these elements of having a great night with good music and good people and at the same time raising money for a good charitable cause. It's the magic three we've been shooting for and continue to shoot for."

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted January 2011