24 Mar 2011

Music Lessons

It is often said that medicine is half science and half art. In Annals of Internal Medicine last week, Dr Frank Davidoff, Editor Emeritus of the journal, went as far as discussing what doctors might learn from musicians.

Reflecting on my own musical training in the past, I would say practice is one of the most important things that I have learned.

Practice is not mechanical repetition of the same movements. It is both a motional and mental process that involves the following steps in cycles: Trial, reflection and experimentation. Without the ability to reflect and the interest to experiment, one may do the same job for the whole life without any improvement. Before a student can do this on her own, it is the responsibility of the teacher to complete the cycle.

Practice takes time. Arthur Rubinstein was born to play Chopin – after years of practice. Similarly, good doctor-patient relationship and clinical sense cannot be developed in the library. You have to interact with patients. It hurts to see some doctors quarreling with patients all the time and never think how they may do it better.

“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it; if I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it; if I don’t practice for a week, everyone knows it.” Having said that, the time required to maintain a skill depends on the level of skill you want to have. Practicing 30 minutes per day (when Angelina is doing something else), I am quite comfortable with Mozart’s Sonatas. If I am to play Beethoven’s Appassionata for others, I would have to practice eight hours per day. By the same token, Szeto reads medical textbooks for 30 minutes everyday to maintain his medical knowledge. I am embarrassed to report when I last opened the Harrison Textbook of Medicine.

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