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Music As a Source of Healing: Drawing Inspiration for Medicine

An illustration of musical notes flowing out of the silhouette of a head.

“We are all mortals aren’t we? Any moment this could go.” –Frank Ocean

As I am now only a few weeks from beginning my medical education, these words seem to reverberate throughout my mind with even more power. Life is simultaneously both a sturdy mountain and a feather in the wind. The challenging moments awaken one of the most beautiful aspects of humanity — the spirit of healing.

Anyone pursuing a career in health care has been touched by this spirit. Be it searching for discovery in the lab, studying as a student, treating patients or volunteering, our life experiences serve as the motivation in entering this humbling work. In my own journey, as I stand at the threshold of learning what it means to be a physician, this is a time full of reflection.

The spirit of healing touched me early on through a deeply personal medium: music. It is a core foundation to the human experience. Countless studies have only begun to uncover the effect music can have on our brains. Johns Hopkins researchers have even shown that music serves as a language that our brains are neurobiologically designed to use, activating regions linked to the interpretation of syntax and verbal communication (Limb 2014). We are designed to be transformed by music.

To me, music has been a central component to healing. I remember the late nights following the passing of my grandfather as I sat with my mother, listening to old Bollywood songs her father raised her on. At that age, I didn’t understand every word of Hindi, but I could feel every moment of the music, and I noticed the healing effect it imbued within her. Growing up I engaged in this therapy myself, using music to process the world around me. Stressful nights were alleviated by lyrics, my low points elevated by the messages in my favorite songs.

I began a practice of curating playlists for my friends, tailored to the experiences we needed help working through. It was a way to extend my felt appreciation and create a personal bond between us. The connections I’ve had with family, friends and strangers over music have been some of my most significant. I look back at these early years as crucial to my own spirit of healing, my own desire to be there for people in their most challenging moments.

Since music first instilled empathy within me, I have fallen in love with health care and all the intricate layers that go into treatment. I am fascinated by biomedical discovery (neuroscience in particular) and innovation in patient care. Specifically, how do we care for people as people and not just afflictions? Sometimes the biggest inspirations to go into medicine may come from unconventional sources. The most powerful will always originate from that spirit of healing that transcends so many important areas of our lives. And that is truly enthralling.

“Gravity release me and don’t ever hold me down. Now my feet won’t touch the ground.” –Coldplay

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