Brandon Baird, MD, is one of those exceptional people that you often come across at Stanford. A physician and classical pianist who loves to sing jazz, Sinatra and Nat King Cole, Baird sang in an a cappella group as an undergrad at the University of North Carolina before receiving his medical degree from Duke.
Baird also came from humble beginnings. A native Washingtonian, he was raised in Anacostia, the historic yet tough part of the city where bright horizons aren't always apparent or accessible for its youth. Referring to the risks and threats that can surround and overtake you there, Baird says "it's not an easy way to grow up." Yet thriving and achieving were his destiny, and it helped to have a mother dedicated to ensuring her son had opportunities to excel along with a scholarship to Georgetown Day, a private school known for its academic excellence.
During a recent conversation for our 1:2:1 podcast, Baird told me how the bus ride to and from the tony side of town where his school was located was a daily reminder that deep racial and economic divides have long existed and persisted in the nation's capital:
From Northwest to Southeast DC, I would watch the neighborhoods and the people in those neighborhoods changing. I saw the height of the economic center of DC and downtown. I saw Embassy Row, where the Sultan of Brunei and his brother lived, and a number of other really high‑up, well‑to‑do diplomats lived.
Then, as I started to get closer and closer to my neighborhood I saw some of the faces changing and some of the resources changing, some of the streets becoming a little bit dirtier, the houses becoming a little bit more crowded. I started to see and appreciate the dichotomy of the city and the difference between the haves and have nots.
Baird came to Stanford for his otolaryngology residency five years ago, and with the end of his training just around the bend, I asked him to describe the intensity of his residency. He explained:
You wake up at 5 in the morning, sometimes earlier than that. When you're an intern you wake up at 4:30. You get there at 5. You gather all the numbers for all of the 20 [or] 30 patients on your list. You write them down. You present those patients and anything that's happened overnight to the chief resident.
Starting at 7, you go to the operating room. You operate all day, sometimes into the night, until 9 or 10 occasionally.
Then you go home and you try to eat because you probably haven't eaten lunch because you were in the operating room operating. Then you are studying while you are eating because there are in‑service exams.
Baird will soon be heading east to Boston where he'll begin a fellowship in voice surgery with the preeminent clinician Steven Zeitels, MD, at Boston's Mass General. Zeitels has a noteworthy string of superstar singers for patients. For Baird, it will be the ultimate experience merging his professional surgical skills with his artistic passions:
I know that I've always loved music, even since age two or three. Trying to play the piano even though I couldn't reach the keys. I've always been a singer for as long as I can remember. Since fifth or sixth grade I've always loved science. It's always said if you love what you do you never work a day in your life.
After we wrapped up our conversation, Baird, a man with a basketball player's height, walked out into the daylight. It was fitting , I thought, that outside was bright and sunny.
Photo by Ross Parmly