Art & Poetry in Medicine, Clinical, Featured, Housestaff Wellness, Internal Medicine
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“PGY3”: How I Coped in the Medical ICU by Making Music

Listen to the track PGY3 by Dr. Roy Souaid and his band John Lebanon on Soundcloud or Spotify.

The song started in New Orleans during the American College of Physicians National Conference in May 2018 and has been a yearlong project inspired by street buskers, hospital sounds and jazz. It captures the medical resident’s work flow and is set in the medical intensive care unit at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

The band John Lebanon was founded in Providence, Rhode Island by Dr. Roy Souaid during his internal medicine training. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist and producer, his debut album Providence is Divine was released in 2017 during his first year of residency. Joined by his colleagues and local musicians, a group was then brought together. Driven by kismet, they are compelled to evolve their methods and style. All tracks are original and crafted with love and care.

Vocalist Dr. Juliet Yirerong (left) with producer Dr. Roy Souaid (right) of the band John Lebanon.

As we embark on our medical training ship, we often face inclement weather, and having good coping mechanisms could mean the difference between a sunken or floating ship.

After a couple of weeks of the 4-3-1 schedule, with repeated cycles of 4 days of long/short/long/float, 3 nights, then a day off, I quickly became a zombie-doc. Keeping track of the last meal I ate was irrelevant at that point. 

Imagine tacking on constant noise, alarms, and paging, and people calling overhead, left, and right. An abusive attending physician, a brand new fellow, the last-second code status discussions, and the constant anxiety and panic that something serious is about to happen can be exhausting after some time.

I remember one night, after an hour of calm, my colleague told me, “It looks like we are going to have an easy one.” 

This was, of course, uttered too soon. Just as he finished his sentence, we are rushed to witness “The Mountain” wake up from a weeklong sedative-fueled sleep for his ARDS. You can imagine the rest.

All of this and you have a recipe for someone pushed to the brink. How do you survive?

Physicians have almost perfected the art of sublimation as a coping mechanism.

A colleague of mine, Dr. Juliet Yirerong, joined me in dealing with our experience in one of the best ways she knew how: singing. The idea came about during a hectic morning commute to the hospital during our third year of residency. We decided that we were going to spend what little free time we have on our hands creating a song. PGY3 was born.

As time went on, the music found some semblance of form. This form was developed from the inspiration found from street buskers and various jazz played on the streets of New Orleans during the annual American College of Physicians conference in 2018. This music ended up being the ultimate escape from the dreadful extended calls in the MICU.

It’s not surprising that physicians need to turn to music as a coping mechanism from the everyday stress of any intensive care unit. The latest research from the Dominican University of California states that listening to music is proven to help college students deal with stress. Stress and anxiety go hand-in-hand, and it’s no secret that continual stress can lead to various anxiety disorders. Stress and anxiety disorders often leave us on an edge with dreadful physiological issues such as an increased heart rate and a spike in blood pressure. These physiological issues are caused by changes in cortisol which music has been found to reduce.

Finding coping strategies to deal with everyday stress is a lifelong journey that we gradually optimize as we gain deeper and better understanding of ourselves. Our ability to cope and find coping mechanisms not only refers to the practical resolution of daily challenges and triggers but also our ability to manage our emotions and reactions in the face of stress.

I can say with confidence that I would not have been able to sail in these waters without starting the band John Lebanon and producing music, including our song PGY3.

Image credit: Noemie Honein

Roy Souaid, MD Roy Souaid, MD (1 Posts)

Attending Physician Guest Writer

Lifespan Health System

Roy Souaid is an internal medicine specialist at Lifespan in Providence, Rhode Island. He completed his residency in 2019 at Brown Alpert Medical School.