The Suffering of Med Students Set to Music? ‘Medicine: The Musical' Takes the Stage

Ryan Syrek, MA

Disclosures

February 09, 2018

It started as a joke.

"When I was in medical school, I used to walk around humming. The joke was that one day, I would do Medicine: The Musical." Michael Ehrenreich, MD, told Medscape. Fast-forward a decade or so, and nobody is laughing. Well, hopefully they are... But only in response to songs like "First Year Sucks," as Dr Ehrenreich's Medicine: The Musical is aiming for an off-Broadway run by fall 2018.

Table read of Medicine: The Musical, from April 2017.

The show is a toe-tapping look at the inevitable collision between excited young students and the many soul-crushing realities of their journey through medical training. "Stress is a big element," Dr Ehrenreich explained. Just don't assume that this is his whimsical way of working through his latent personal frustrations with the educational experience. "It's all 100% fiction. None of this happened to me." Through the artistic license, quips, and guitar riffs, students and established doctors will hopefully hear a meaningful refrain. "In the medical world, you come across a lot of bitterness today. But this piece is really a story of optimism about the medical profession."

Not quite a bard with a lyre and an agenda, Dr Ehrenreich didn't start with a message and then find a funky way of phrasing it. Instead, he spontaneously penned half the show while his wife and children were away for a week. He finished the rest within 3 months. Only after completing it did he put the work in context with other musicals. "Mostly, it's its own thing," he noted before mentioning that after writing it, he "looked at Tommy." Because, really, who doesn't refer to the famous psychedelic rock opera about a pinball wizard when explaining the medical school experience?

The parallel that Dr Ehrenreich sees between his work and ones like Tommy or Spring Awakening is in their mutual unconventionality. Although the highly technical world of medicine may not seem like a natural fit for flights of fancy, Medicine: The Musical aims to function as much as a mirror for students and doctors as a window to those peering into offices and hospitals. In fact, Dr Ehrenreich identified a particularly theatrical parallel. "When you put on the coat, you take on a role that you play for a profession. Doctors without white coats on are just people."

Ultimately, the full-time dermatologist and part-time Lin-Manuel Miranda hopes that those within the profession take home the same message as those outside of it do. "The message is that it's difficult, but if you work hard, you get through it. You keep going." In fact, the musical that he suggests shares the most similar DNA with his, thematically speaking, may surprise you: "A Chorus Line. It's about all of these hopeful, aspiring dancers and actors who just want something. Badly. They want to succeed."

Fittingly for a spiritual sibling to A Chorus Line, Dr Ehrenreich's musical is currently on Kickstarter. Whether the "off" in "off-Broadway" gets doubled to "off-off Broadway" depends on the funds received. To learn how numbers like "So You Want to Know How I Died" or "Learning to Code" are inspiring donations as well as medical students, you can see a stage reading of the program on the show's YouTube page.

Ultimately, Medicine: The Musical looks to package the suffering and strife of its student subjects in way that proudly promotes the profession to everyone who sees it. At a time when many medical headlines are ominous warnings or dire recounts of burnout and depression, this unconventional work is bursting with the same palpable positivity as its author. When it comes to the field of medicine, Dr Ehrenreich proclaims that despite all of the challenges, "It's still a great place to be."

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