Six gynecologic oncologists met at an annual meeting for women’s cancer and formed a rock band called No Evidence of Disease (N.E.D.). It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but this is exactly what happened in 2008 when five of my colleagues and I attended the Society of Gynecologic Oncology Meeting in Tampa, Florida. Since that initial meeting, our journey of weaving together music and medicine has been a healing process, taking us to the cutting edge of humanism in medicine and giving us a unique perspective into the artistic changes in medical education taking place throughout the United States.
What started out as a one-time gig playing for our friends and colleagues in 2008 has evolved into an international mission to raise awareness and education of women’s cancer using music and the arts to help spread the word. And why would this come as a surprise to anyone? Music is one of the oldest and most effective forms of communication. So it makes perfect sense that music would be useful in helping people talk about a difficult subject such as cancer.
Over the past four years, N.E.D. has released two studio albums of original music, performed for audiences throughout the United States and internationally, published a book entitled Music and Cancer: A Prescription For Healing along with a companion educational DVD exploring the connections between music and cancer, lectured extensively on the topic of music and healing, and become subjects of a documentary film entitled No Evidence of Disease, which captures the entire story.
In addition to raising awareness and education for women’s cancer, our projects have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable organizations, including the Foundation For Women’s Cancer and Marjie’s Fund. We are achieving our mission of spreading the word about gynecological cancer awareness through partnerships with community-based organizations throughout the United States and grassroots fundraising.
Recently, N.E.D. performed five shows in the New York/New Jersey area, including at the Cotton Club in Harlem, Times Square, 201 Club (NJ), 92Y Tribeca (NYC), and Drom (NYC). During this New York City/New Jersey tour, the band partnered with Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, as well as other organizations to help generate more than $50,000 in donations to be put towards women’s cancer awareness and education.
Yet with all the success, we still find ourselves wondering. What comes next for music and healing? What potential might our work have for truly advancing the role of music in medicine beyond the traditional concepts of music therapy? And most importantly, what is the role of physicians in promoting healing through the power of music?
To answer these questions, we look back to the early descriptions of music as a tool to heal the mind and body. The origins and evolution of music therapy are fascinating and deep rooted. In 500 B.C., Pythagoras, a well-known Greek philosopher who was an expert in the fields of both music and mathematics, stated, “rhythm subsists within the mind, and the mind exerts a powerful influence over the health of the body.” Many experts consider Pythagoras the father of music therapy as he provided us with a clear understanding of how music can actually heal, first by soothing the mind and then the mind healing the body.
Although music therapy is now a well-established allied health profession, doctors by and large have been slow to embrace and incorporate music therapy in the care of their patients. Perhaps because music interventions are not administered in the more traditional way that doctors treat patients (i.e., not as a pill or a surgical procedure), doctors have been relatively quiet in terms of advancing the field.
As the success of N.E.D. continues to grow, we are realizing more and more the benefits that music may have in the healing process. And while music therapists do a wonderful job in administering music interventions for patients and their loved ones, it has become clear that there is an increasing need for doctors to support and help advance the role of music in the healing process. Physicians need to become more educated and familiar with the growing amount of research and scientific data backing this field. For example, in the medical literature regarding care of the cancer patient, there is now strong scientific data supporting that music triggers responses that reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, enhance relaxation, diminish pain, and help patients and their families adjust to cancer.
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center has a long and rich history of having doctors partner with leaders in the music and arts to help patients and their loved ones to heal. For instance, The Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund is a 100% donor-supported endeavor that was founded by Dr. Frank Forte and other members of Englewood Hospital shortly after Dizzy Gillespie passed away from pancreatic cancer at the hospital in 1993. Working in partnership with the Jazz Foundation of America, the memorial fund underwrites the costs of hospitalization, diagnostic tests, and a full range of surgical and medical care for jazz musicians who are uninsured and without the ability to pay for their medical services. Since its formation, the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund has provided more than $5 million of in-kind medical services for musicians throughout the jazz community. The program continues to flourish and thrive thanks to the generosity of the community, as well as doctors and services provided by the hospital.
At a time when hospitals around the country are now realizing the benefits of integrating music and the arts in the healing process, Englewood Hospital has emerged as a leader in the field thanks to its innovative and proven approach of incorporating music to help promote humanistic care. In fact, earlier this year Massachusetts General Hospital looked to the experts at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center to help shape their newly established Music and Medicine Center.
While hospitals such as Englewood have successfully been able to integrate the fields of music and medicine to benefit their patients and staff, we realize there is a need to expand this concept on a more global scale. If we are to truly change the culture of medicine and the way doctors view the role of music and the arts in the care of patients, the healing aspects of music and the arts needs be brought in at the ground level; that is into the medical school curriculum. While this may sound a little far fetched, it is exactly what some of the leading medical schools around the country are now doing.
The Mount Sinai School of Medicine is one of several medical schools in the United States that has begun to offer Music and Medicine lectures and course work to its students. The newly established Mount Sinai Academy for Medicine and Humanities will further develop this mission and help increase physician awareness of how both the science and art of healing intersect through the power of music.
From teachings of Pythagoras in 500 B.C. to the formation of N.E.D. in 2008, music has a long and storied role in the evolution of medicine. The time is now to further examine and elevate its integral role as a prescription for healing.
Nimesh P. Nagarsheth, M.D., is director of gynecologic oncology and associate director of robotic surgery at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, in Englewood, NJ, as well as associate director of gynecologic oncology and director of music and the arts in medicine, division of gynecologic oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York, NY.