Rock as Remedy: Band Builds Work-life Balance

Lots of good advice got dispensed at a session on work-life balance at the Society of Hospital Medicine meeting recently, including the importance of honoring your inner self, having a supportive spouse, working with your hospitalist colleagues to support each other around scheduling difficulties, even hiring a nanny. Surprising to me, nothing was said explicitly about keeping creativity and fun in your life.

Dr. McIlraith is lead singer for The Remedies. (Courtesy Sam Hayashi/Zuma Light Works)

Dr. Thomas McIlraith knows about that last part. The chairman of the hospital medicine department for Mercy Medical Group, a large hospital medicine and multispecialty medical group in Sacramento, Calif., he’s also the lead singer and songwriter for The Remedies, a regionally popular five-member rock band that includes nephrologist Dr. David Pai playing bass and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dan Anderson, who is the band’s sound engineer.

“My experience has been that if I don’t have music in my life, the rest of my life doesn’t live up to its potential. It’s kind of a left-brain, right-brain balance. I find that when I fulfill that creative need, I have more energy for other things,” he said. “It feeds back on itself; it pays back in the inspiration and energy you have for patient care.”

He first noticed this in medical school at the University of Wisconsin in 1992, when he ran a 15-person band called The Arrhythmias. Scheduling practices, etc. in the era before e-mail was time-consuming. “I was worried that I’d flunk out, but that’s when I got my best grades,” he said.

Scheduling for The Remedies isn’t simple either, with three physicians on board plus drummer and geologist Greg Marquis, who is gone for long stretches in the field, and guitarist and recycling worker Walt Simmons. As the chairman of his department, Dr. McIlraith’s schedule consists of the leftovers after the other 55 hospitalists have claimed shifts to fill their schedules.

“I work a lot of nights, and then work some days, so it can be a little haphazard. Before our recent show, we went three weeks straight when we couldn’t manage to fit in a practice. Then we had two, and the show went great,” he said.

Dr. McIlraith (left) rocks with Walt Simmons (center) and Dr. David Pai. (Courtesy Sam Hayashi/Zuma Light Works)

Playing in the band is fun, but so is watching co-workers let loose at the shows. It’s a work-hard, play-hard thing. “We work very, very hard on very tough issues, and when we play, it’s nice to see these people cuttin’ loose and dancing. That’s very fulfilling for me,” he said.

The Remedies play mostly covers with some original tunes thrown in, including two that Dr. McIlraith wrote specifically about hospitalist work. “The Long Ride” recalls the early difficult days of establishing hospitalist medicine. McIlraith sings,

Switching back and forth between night and day

Getting’ no respect, never getting’ our way

Stood our ground and demanded a say

That’s why we’re all here today

The lyrics specifically call out the contributions of founding hospitalists Dr. Winthrop F. Whitcomb, Dr. John R. Nelson, and Dr. Laurence D. Wellikson, as well as the Society of Hospital Medicine itself:

Come together, stay strong, and SHM will help carry you on

Gonna do more than just get by

Who would have known it would be such a long ride

The CPOE Blues” is another original tune that physicians in many specialties might relate to, singing of the “joys” of computerized physician order entry:

Now, there are a few things I’ve come to hate

Like forgetting to click on “initiate”…

Everybody’s looking ’round for clues

On how they’re s’posed to deal with the CPOE blues

Dr. McIlraith’s roles don’t end with hospitalist and rock musician. He’s also a husband and father of two children. How does he juggle all this? Through the magic ingredient that every session on work-life balance emphasizes as a key factor: a supportive spouse.

His wife works at home as an investment manager and she handles much of the home care as well. “She really takes very good care of all of us,” he acknowledged. “I’m extraordinarily blessed in that regard.”

–Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

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Filed under Hospital and Critical Care Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Nephrology, Surgery, Uncategorized

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