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Stanford anesthesia faculty and staff share their hidden talents

Michael Bizer singingIt can be easy to assume that your co-workers’ talents don’t extend much past what they display in the office or the operating room — especially when their careers take up the majority of their waking hours. But in the case of the Stanford Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative, and Pain Medicine, at least, that assumption would be entirely off base. Anesthesia staff, residents, faculty, and family members recently gathered on campus to show off their artistic sides at the 4th Annual Arts and Anesthesia Soiree -- and there was a lot to see. Paintings, drawings, ceramics, a quilt, hand-crafted furniture, and even an anesthesia-inspired cake lined the room. A slide show of travel photographs played on a projector. Throughout the evening, dancers, singers, musicians, and poets took to the stage.

Audrey Shafer, MD, one of the department's poets and the organizer of the soiree, said that the event is “meant to be fun and supportive — a way to explore other areas of our lives that don’t get discussed in the OR or the lecture hall.” That supportive environment was clear from the rapt attention of the audience and the way children’s crafts were intermingled with the art of adults who had clearly devoted time to mastering their crafts.

The comfortable setting also allowed performers to venture outside their comfort zones: Musician Jennifer Basarab-Tung, MD, performed a number of songs throughout the night — some on piano and some as a singer, some accompanying others and some solo. The last piece she did, a very challenging vocal piece called "Laudamus Te," where she was accompanied by anesthesia resident and violinist Lynn Ngai Wu, MD, was something she had wanted to perform in public as a solo for a long time "but the thought of singing a solo gives me panic attacks... Each time I muster up the courage to do it, I feel that I've overcome a little more of that stage fright, and maybe some day it will be a thing of the past."

Jennifer Basarab-Tung on pianoDespite the long hours of work as anesthesiologist, Basarab-Tung finds time to devote to music just about every week. “Because of the schedule demands of a medical career, I've typically joined choirs that have mixed skill levels and will look the other way if I miss rehearsals here and there. My current choir rehearses only once a week, so it's usually easy to make time,” she said. Sometimes, it’s the hospital that's accommodating: Basarab-Tung had a leading role in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta during her first year as an attending, and she managed to tailor her work schedule around it. In general, though, part of the appeal of singing is that she can do it anywhere. “I do my best singing in the car," she said. "If I didn't make time for music in some way, I would lose a major part of my identity and well-being, so it has never even been a question for me [to continue doing it]."

Shafer, who conducts research on art and medicine as well as organizes art events for the anesthesia department, said that even after four years of hosting this event, there’s still a lot of energy behind it. “Every year, something surprises me… There’s the surprise of finding out that someone you know has these hidden talents,” she said.

Previously: "What a lift to one's morale": Stanford physicians take time from busy schedules to discuss artA musician amongst the scientistsStanford's Medicine & the Muse event mixes music, dance and pediatrics and Stanford Medicine Music Network brings together healers, musicians and music lovers
Photos, of anesthesia technician Michael Bizer singing and Jennifer Basrab-Tung on piano, by Cynthia Khoo, MD

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