Medicine, Music, and Moonlighting

I love my day job as a gynecologic oncologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto as well as my role as the clinical lead for Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre regional gynecologic cancer program in Barrie, Ontario. My work keeps me very busy as do my three beautiful daughters. With great friends and family, and some of the best support staff any doctor could ask for, I’ve achieved my goal of becoming a successful doctor and surgeon for women with cancer. But I’ve always had another dream tucked away.

Dodge 2I’ve always been musical – in fact at age 3 I started playing the accordion, which I’m pretty sure was bigger than I was! But I put my musical dreams on hold while I pursued a medical career. I learned to play piano, percussion, and brass, and dabbled with songwriting over the years but most of my time was devoted to my medical training at Western University and University of Toronto.

A few years ago a patient in the palliative care ward asked me to play for her. I brought in my piano and surprised her with an original song I’d prepared for her titled, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.” It was an emotional afternoon and afterward she made me promise that I would pursue my love of music professionally. Well, two albums later, here I am working on my third with two very accomplished and talented songwriters, Steve Dorff (whose songs have been sung by legends Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston, to name a few) and Paul Overstreet (who wrote the number-one hit “Forever and Ever, Amen” for Randy Travis).

Many people ask me how I find the time to be a doctor at two hospitals and a professional musician.

Sometimes after a challenging day at the hospital, it can be hard to do anything at all, let alone write and play music. But music never feels like a chore. It calms my spirit and brings me a sense of peace. I find that music has a unique healing power both for me and for people going through tough times, whether struggling with illness or other personal issues. I always say that my goal is to share my music with as many people as possible with the hope that it will bring to them the same sense of passion, peace, and fulfillment it has brought to my own life. Here are a few ways in which music helps to heal both patients and myself.

How Music Helps Patients

  1. Pain relief
    Overall, music does have positive effects on pain management. It can help reduce both the sensation and distress of chronic pain, postoperative pain, and a range of conditions, according to a paper in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
  2. Immunity boost
    Music can boost the immune function. A comprehensive study on the neurochemistry of music explains that a particular type of music can create a positive and profound emotional experience, which leads to secretion of immune-boosting hormones as well as endorphins. Listening to music, dancing, or singing can also decrease levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol.
  3. Increase energy and fight fatigue
    Many of my patients sometimes suffer from fatigue due to treatment or the postoperative healing process. Losing themselves in music helps reduce physical and emotional stress and can chase negative emotions away. Musical distraction can also help with sleepless nights.

How Music Helps Me

  1. Staying positive
    Music improves my moods and creates a more positive state of mind that helps me through busy days and emotional times.
  2. Mental and physical workout
    Music helps with concentration and staying focused. In addition, playing the piano improves motor coordination and dexterity – very beneficial when I’m at the operating table.
  3. Calm and cool
    The medical field can be very high-stress and emotionally taxing. Going home and playing the piano or writing lyrics really helps me channel this energy in a positive way. And music has been shown to help lower heart rate and blood pressure, which is great for my long-term health.

How does music affect you? What activities help you escape? How do you balance the demands of the job with your personal interests? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Jason Dodge, MD, Med, is a surgical oncologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. He participated in the AIUM International Consensus Conference on Adnexal Masses in 2014. You can check out his music on his website or on iTunes.