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How music gives aspiring physician-scientist a proper life rhythm

Quenton Rashawn Bubb continues to value the complex, complementary nature of work on parallel paths -- not just as a musician/academic, but now on the path to his career.

In this We Are Stanford Med series, meet individuals who are shaping the future of medicine. They hail from all over the globe and come to Stanford Medicine carrying big ideas and dreams.

For Quenton Rashawn Bubb, who first laid his hands on a piano at age 4, music has always meant more than just playing an instrument or listening to a melody. Music was a tool to nurture interdisciplinary thinking and curiosity -- and to identify his true self.

"When I was about 12, I realized time signatures are just fancy fractions," Bubb said of music's way of quantifying notes. "I remember during math exams thinking of time signatures as shortcuts for answering test questions about fractions."

Bubb embraced that duality early in high school, developing an intuition for how to apply learnings from one concept to solve another seemingly unrelated problem. "When I started developing my academic identity, it was as important to me to understand my creative voice. Both music and school helped me find comfort in being myself."

Bubb continues to value the complex, complementary nature of work on parallel paths -- not just as a musician/academic, but now on the path to his career. He is in his sixth year of the Stanford Medical Scientist Training MD-PhD program, focusing on new approaches to targeting acute myeloid leukemia, a devastating disease that affects both children and adults.

Losing his mother to cancer in 2022 only crystalized the importance of his career choice -- and filled him with introspection. "My memories of her are evolving and impacting me and changing the way I think about myself," he said. "When you see the book open and close, it gives you a certain clarity of meaning. Every time she would try to motivate, I didn't know then that it would motivate me in the future." Bubb's choice to not choose between research and patient care reflects the complexities of the aspiring physician-scientist.

Quenton Bubb (left), with his mom and brother in their Brooklyn home.

"[In the clinic] you can see the person and you can provide solutions and paths forward," Bubb said. "But then there's also this background piece -- the research side. Having access to the people side and the translational side in medicine and learning how to create therapies and how to improve them gives me this toolkit."

Bubb, a 2022 Paul & Daisy Soros fellow, works in two labs and is co-mentored by Agnieszka Czechowicz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics, and Crystal Mackall, MD, the Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor and a professor of pediatrics and of medicine.

Bubb's interests were deeply influenced by his parents, who emigrated from Grenada to New York City, where he grew up. His love for music -- particularly jazz -- came from his father, an electrician and musician. Biology and medicine came from his mother, a nurse, who encouraged Bubb to become the physician she had aspired to be. "My mom started a career in nursing as soon as she got here," he said. "But being a Black woman in Brooklyn, New York, an immigrant -- it's not easy to just hop into medical school."

Quenton Bubb found added clarity of mission with the loss of his mother to cancer.

After his mother's death, Bubb was left with the type of memories -- words of encouragement, sacrifices made -- that many children are not. Through his adult eyes, he continues to see more clearly just how much she meant. "When I put myself in that 4-year-old's shoes and imagine the mother that she was, I'm bringing an adult perspective to the magnitude of what that love means."

While they left Grenada to provide their children greater opportunities than they'd had, Bubb's parents were also keenly aware of the challenges Black Americans experience. They encouraged their children in education, but also in music as a space where a sense of individualism and freedom could thrive.

"Their attitude was, 'You'll never regret knowing how to express yourself,'" he said. "If you can appreciate this music, it's yours, and no one can take that from you." And, he began to realize as a young boy sitting at the piano keys, you can also learn about yourself. As Bubb wrote on a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships Instagram post, he sees himself as an amateur jazz musician who uses music to foster his own mindfulness, which he hopes to pay forward in his medical career.

"Now, more than ever, mindfulness is a critical component to my daily survival," he wrote. "Exercises in mindfulness are tools that I use to center humanism, which hopefully can provide significant value to people around me, and ultimately my future patients."

Read more We Are Stanford Med stories here; and watch the video series here.

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