Rounding in Country Music Helped This Doctor Find Balance

Cleveland Francis, MD


May 10, 2023

I have often been asked how I balanced medicine and music over the span of my career. An intense profession like medicine leads many to give up the hobbies they love.

Cleve Francis, MD

Midway through my career as a cardiologist, I realized that I was not indispensable. If anything happened to me, my patients would get a replacement. I needed to take care of myself. I needed a space of my own where I was not thinking about medicine. Finding the balance was the issue. This had to be intentional.

I grew up in southwest Louisiana surrounded by jazz, gospel, blues, Cajun, country, and zydeco music. I started singing and playing guitar at age 9 and have never stopped. I managed to hang on to my music through med school and setting up my own practice.

Balancing Music and Medicine

Music provided a magical balance between the physical and emotional work of doctoring and ordinary life. Through music, I met people who were not involved in the medical field. My patients also saw a different side of me that they found relatable.

Cleve Francis during his days as a professional musician.

I was good enough to be offered a recording contract with Capitol Records in 1992. I took a sabbatical from my practice and toured the country and abroad. Once the initial excitement faded and I got caught up in the business side of music, it was just as stressful as being on call. I missed the balance.

When my brief fame was over, I returned to cardiology practice, but I also kept playing music. This turned out to be a tremendous advantage.

Being a performer allows me to appreciate empathy. To give a good performance, a musician must try to become the character in the song and feel the emotions conveyed in the lyrics. The same principles apply to treating patients.

Patients' lives are like songs, each in its own genre, with verses, choruses, keys (major and minor), and endings set to the rhythm of time. This may account for the universality of music.

Cleve Francis helping the community.

My patients knew that I was more than my medical credentials. They often shared their love of art with me. Music also allowed me to give back. When I started a cardiac rehabilitation program at my local hospital, I performed several concerts to raise money to allow uninsured patients to attend.

Hobbies to Avert Burnout

In this day of physician burnout, it is important that healthcare practitioners hang on to their interests. A recent Medscape report found that almost 70% of physicians surveyed used hobbies to help maintain their happiness and mental health. But sadly, many doctors find that work negatively affects their hobbies.

Playing music, both professionally and as a hobby, has not only improved my quality of life but has also given me perspective on life and work. I even recorded a song about slowing down to smell the roses.

I encourage physicians to intentionally carve out time for themselves. Take art classes, dust off the instrument you used to play, take piano lessons, learn photography, dance, join the local community orchestra or garage band… Activities like these make us more fit to undergo the stress of providing good patient care. Institutions should also make this time available for physicians.

Cleveland Francis, MD, is the former president and founder of Mount Vernon Cardiology Associates. Francis is also a songwriter and performer. He was a recording artist on the Capitol Nashville Country Music Label (1992-1995), and his music has been featured at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

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