Written by Nathan Clendenin for UNC Health Care
Doctors are probably one of the busiest groups of people in the world. It seems they are either in the hospital or have a pager permanently affixed to the hip, ready to be called in any time of the day or night. The number of patients they see in a day is more people than I see in one week! So I’m always amazed when I meet doctors who do such interesting things outside of their lives at the hospital. I wonder when they find the time.
Take for example, Dr. David Tate, a cardiologist at UNC and a musician. Finding time to play his banjo is a bit easier when he’s playing with patients who are already in the hospital. He’s been known to leave his banjo in a patient’s room for ready access during rounds. For Tate, music is one way he can connect with his patients, and allow them to feel more real and more human, despite the needles and wires that connect them to all kinds of mechanical devices. It reminds them of life outside of their illness. That, Tate says, has a tremendous impact on their recovery.
And Dr. Tate isn’t afraid to recruit some of the hospital staff he works with into his musical ventures. He told me a story of overhearing a former Critical Care Unit nurse singing a gentle spiritual song to a patient, and later recruiting her to sing in his band (check out their rendition of “Respect” and tell me, vocally, she couldn’t pass for Aretha Franklin’s sister). In that same band was the husband of one of the managers in the EKG and Cardiac Graphics Lab, ripping it up with his vocals and guitar licks.
Tate’s repertoire isn’t limited to stringed instruments, as he finds a lot of joy learning the Caribbean steel drum (see a clip of him playing with the husband of an EKG technician). In fact if you sit down for a beer with him, he’ll tell you how pretty much all popular music in the last hundred years has its roots in the African diaspora, whether it’s bluegrass, jazz or steel drum music. It’s a thirst for learning about people from different backgrounds and cultures that drives Tate’s musical interests. For him, music is less about melody, and more about the harmony of connecting people.