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Humanities, Music and Medicine: A Mission in the Arts and Medicine

by Mary Rorro, DO

I am Chair of the Music and Medicine Committee and Co-Chair of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) Medical Humanities Committee. The impact of the pandemic on women in medicine inspired the creation of videos including “Answering the Call” and “Meet the Moment” to recognize the remarkable courage and compassion of physicians, nurses, and many healthcare providers who cared for others during the COVID-19 crisis and every day.

As Chair the Music and Medicine Committee,  I have developed creative projects with members of my committee and fostered collaborations with the larger humanities committee members. Music and the arts have the power to add a unique dimension to our work as physicians and to create a special bond between doctor and patient. Through the Music and Medicine committee, I seek to encourage and mentor physicians and pre-med students to find ways to incorporate music and the arts into their personal and professional lives.

At my initial AMWA meeting a few years ago, I offered to perform on viola for the gala in Philadelphia. This led to discussions with Eliza Chin, MD, AMWA Executive Director, who invited me to compose a centennial theme song for the upcoming Medical Women’s International Association Centennial Meeting (MWIA) which was to be hosted by AMWA. 

AMWA’s vision and mission of promoting women physicians for over a century inspired lyrics for “Physicians Healers: Doctors of the World, United.” Thousands of women physicians from AMWA and MWIA convened in New York to celebrate MWIA’s 100 year history. Honored to compose music for this historic event, I reflected on the history of early women physicians and the achievements of this organization to promote women in medicine as the principle inspiration for the lyrics.

I drew upon pioneering women leaders who yearned to break down barriers to pursue careers in medicine. By challenging the prevailing system that barred women’s entry, these first women in medicine paved the way for all of us. The lyrics “leaders of our dreams” refers to the impact of our founding female medical leaders, including Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, Ann Preston, MD, the first dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia, and all the “doctor descendants” who have followed.

Since the pandemic, we have been moved by images of doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers throughout the world as they struggled to combat the novel SARs-CoV-2. Many essential frontline workers have faced considerable physical, psychological, and traumatic experiences in caring for patients during this time.

Yet they exceeded the demands placed on them, often through considerable sacrifice and at times, the ultimate sacrifice. They have inspired so many, placing themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of humanity, as that is what heroes do.

I was compelled to honor their remarkable courage and compassion, and composed a Suite of Songs called “Meet the Moment,” which includes the following songs titles: “Answering The Call,” “Meet the Moment” and “Always Look Toward Tomorrow.” These songs are testament to the ideals of all “healers of the world.”

Participation in the production of the “Physicians Healers and Healthcare Heroes” and other videos was enthusiastic. Women physicians, nurses, and healthcare providers contributed photos from the US and abroad. Women represent a significant percentage of the global healthcare workforce and have been an integral part of the COVID-19 response.

Our videos bridge the centuries by honoring the women in medicine from past generations as well as women physicians of our time. We are empowered to continue the enduring legacy of the leaders who came before us as we carry out the meaningful mission of all physician healers and healthcare heroes—guiding, healing, and transforming the lives of our patients.

I told my parents I wanted to be a doctor when I was four years old and at that age there was no conception that I could not become a doctor because of gender. I felt a fervent desire to help people and worked toward that from that moment. How many girls had the same desire in years past and were not able to achieve their dreams because of artificial limitations and gender bias? Fortunately, I was raised by parents and the family that imposed no limits on what a girl or woman could pursue. My mother said she looked at me when I was born and knew that she wanted me to be able to achieve as much as a man. I benefited from women professional role models in my family and was the product of an all-female high school and Bryn Mawr college, part of the 7 sisters.  Bryn Mawr nurtured my interests and I felt supported in musical activities as a pre-medical student and music major and biology minor. I have had medical role models, including my father, three uncles, and both of my grandparents. My Aunt Mary was one of four women medical students in her class of 1958 to graduate from Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was accepted during her interview, and spent countless hours and house calls taking care of her devoted patients. Through her hard work, she was promoted to Chief Medical Officer for the US Postal Service of northern and central New Jersey.

My mother, Gilda Rorro, EdD, has established leadership roles in education and as the Honorary Vice Consul of Italy in Trenton. A special moment for us was when we were both awarded the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Awards for Public Service. This award was created in 1972 by the American Institute for Public Service and one of the founders was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. My mother always encouraged me to fulfill my dreams as a woman, and has been my inspiration and guiding light.  

I created a music and arts program for veterans called “A Few Good Notes,” which has been featured on WQXR radio (the former radio station of the New York Times) and WNYC website, the Dr. Oz website, and AOL‘s Homepage for Heroes.”

Through the therapeutic music program, the guitar instruction group provides vets with guitars and lessons for the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System. I play viola with patients in their group, creating a musical partnership with them.

I write poetry based on themes of posttraumatic stress disorder and war that I share with patients to help them in their journey toward healing. My goal is to share my poetry collection and the music I have composed with more Veterans, so that they may be used for therapeutic purposes, such as to help those with grief and loss.

I reconnected with my former Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra conductor Maestro Matteo Giammario, during the pandemic. He is 97 years old and a World War II veteran. We collaborated on my songs, some which pay tribute to veterans such as “Thank You, Veterans,” “The Banner Yet Waves,” and Remember Me,”  with Matteo writing the very piano arrangement to my melody and lyrics. We composed a total of 12 songs, some of which are Anthems for international organizations.

The AMWA Music and Medicine and Humanities videos bridge the centuries by honoring trailblazing women doctors from past generations in AMWA and MWIA — and women physicians of our time. We continue the enduring legacy of leaders who came before us as we carry out the inspiring and meaningful mission of all physician healers and healthcare heroes — transforming the lives of our patients.

In collaboration with Gloria Bachmann, MD, Co-Chair of the AMWA Humanities Committee and Director of the Rutgers Women’s Health Institute, we spearheaded the AMWA and Rutgers WHI-joint sponsored “Humanities and Healing: An Arts in Medicine Journal.”

Journal submissions showcase the considerable breadth of talent of our students and physicians across the humanities, including music, art, photography and dance. We hope that our journal can inspire and play a role in healing.

Written by:  Mary Rorro, D.O.

AMWA Admin

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