Do Creativity and Artistry Exist in Medicine?
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Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Today we have a very special guest. Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, and I’m going to read her bio. So she’s a Medical Director of Research at Caron Treatment Center, and a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine. Prior to her current position, she was the Associate Medical Director at Geisinger Marworth Treatment Center in Waverly, PA, and the Program Director of Geisinger’s Addiction Medicine Fellowship, she also held the rank of Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Epidemiology at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.
So she got her MD from Penn State. Then she did her internship in Psychiatry Family Medicine at Pittsburgh. She completed her Family Medicine Residency at the Penn State, Good Samaritan Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program. So she’s also received Dental Degrees from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and she also holds a Master of Public Health Degree from Johns Hopkins University, Board Certified Family Medicine, Addiction Medicine and then all public health and has contributed to International Public Health Education as a Fulbright Specialist in Nigeria. She is a Erasmus Mundus Scholar in France in the UK, and she also volunteers on medical mission projects in Nigeria and Haiti. So she also serves on the editorial board of medical education online, and is the founding editor in chief of Black Diamonds, a literary journal. And also, she’s also curated a photographic exhibit featuring prominent women in medicine.
So in today’s show, we’re going to be talking about artistry and music. So she’s very active in these fields. So she strongly believes in the need to transform the way we educate children and youth with the focus on creativity, problem solving and integrating arts and sciences. So she’s also received several scholarships and awards as the emerging leader award from Family Medicine Education Consortium. She’s also AMC Herbert Nickens faculty fellowship and she was recognized by Northeastern Pennsylvania Business Journal as one of the top 25 Women in Business in 2015, and was a second prize winner in the State Department’s Citizen Diplomacy Challenge in the same year. Our guest today is very accomplished. And she’s going to talk all about how our music has combined to enrich her lives and the lives of others. So, Peju, welcome to the show here.
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Thank you.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: We’re so glad to have you, your bio was so accomplished.
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Thank you.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Behind all of those accolades, I’m really interested in learning the person behind the bio. So tell us all about you, where you grew up your training, all of your influences, and how that led you to pursue a more a passion for the arts and creative endeavors?
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Okay, should probably ask how much time we have, you really want to hear everything. So let’s see. So, actually, I grew up in Nigeria, but I was actually born in Washington, DC, I was born into a diplomatic family. So we were born in different countries. And ended up growing up mostly in Nigeria, and I, I had a lot of interests growing up but definitely grew up in an environment where you were expected to become a doctor or lawyer and, there was a lot of pressure to say the least. And, and I remember once telling a relative, it wasn’t even my parents, it was a relative. I told her that, she asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, I wanted to be a pianist. And she just gave me this look like you better think about a real job. That’s a hobby. Yeah, and I remember when I was a little bit older, telling my parents that I liked writing, I’m not even sure. I didn’t even do that much writing. But I just knew that there was something in me that I wanted to write. I really wanted to write and, and I remember telling them, and then oh, you can do that in your spare time.
So yeah, I was expected to become a doctor. But inside me, I knew that I wanted to do a lot of other things, too. And then the system in Nigeria, you didn’t have to, it wasn’t like what you do four years of college and then go to medical or dental school, he was like you’d make up your mind in high school, and then you go right into the university. So I remember thinking that, well. Dentistry is close enough to medicine. I’ll still learn a lot about anatomy and physiology and all these interesting things but I’ll eventually have time to pursue other interests. That was kind of my thinking. I didn’t really have a whole lot of career guidance at the time. Believe it or not, I was 15. I was 15. When I entered university, and literally six years later, I was a dentist. So yeah. So I did that. And then but again, there was a part of me, I knew I had all these other interests, but at the same time, I kind of felt responsible for saving the world. So I sort of had an interest in public health without really understanding what public health was.
After doing some dentistry for a while I heard about this MPH program as a public health program at Johns Hopkins. And I heard that if you get an MPH from Hopkins, there’s a job waiting for you and that sort of thing. I was like, Yeah, I’ll get an MPH from Hopkins, and I’ll go save the world. Maybe go work with the WHO or UNICEF. So I ended up applying to Hopkins and getting accepted. And I got through the MPH and guess what? That wonderful job wasn’t waiting for me. [laughs] Yes, so yeah, but I did have other opportunities. Because I had dental training, I was able to get into dental public health residency programs.
So I did that and then stayed there in New York, at Montefiore. I stayed on for a while. And then it’s like, more and more, I kept feeling like I really needed to do more and I was feeling very, very limited and so, so eventually, I decided to apply to medical school, and I went to medical school. Now, what happens to my music and my interest in writing and all that, well, let’s see. So I went to medical school. Fortunately, I went to Penn State Hershey, which has a very strong medical humanities program. So, so there, we, at least in the first year, we did a lot of writing. During the course we had these writing assignments. So we write about things like spirituality and medicine, death and dying caring for the poor and that sort of thing. And so that gave me an opportunity to do some writing, but it wasn’t really like, it wasn’t really a consistent thing and then, with the piano, I hadn’t really had lessons for I’ll only had lessons for a very, very brief period, as a child, most of it I was just doing on my own when I could. So in medical school, there’s not a whole lot of time for that either but I would play when I could.
And once and a while I would help to organize musical events like, around the holidays, Christmas time, and we would have talent shows, and people would perform and, and sometimes I would sing, I never really thought my piano playing was good enough to perform anyway. But, other people have the opportunity to perform. Yeah, sometimes I would sing in groups and I started teaching myself the guitar. Actually, before that, before I went to medical school, I, let’s see, when I finished my MPH between then and my starting the public health residency in New York, I was staying with friends for a few months, and there was a guitar in the house and nobody played. So I picked it up, and I started teaching myself chords, and then I realized that, oh, it’s not really that hard, you have to just play a few chords, and you can accompany a lot of songs.
So that’s how I started playing the guitar, right. So in medical school, I would play the piano and guitar, but again, I didn’t really spend a whole lot of time on those. And then, and then I finished medical school, did my residency, like you had mentioned, I started in the spring and then came back to Penn State to finish my family medicine residency. And it was during my, my first faculty position, actually, after residency, when I went to Scranton, Pennsylvania to be part of a new medical school. It was then called the Commonwealth Medical College, now it’s Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. And so here I was, in my first faculty position I’m all these responsibilities at a new medical school. And, but then again, because I had all these interests they kind of never went away.
So, again, we would have opportunities for talent shows for the students, sometimes I would participate. As a medical student at Hershey, I was on the editorial team for a literary journal called the Wild Onions. And as a fourth year medical student, I was the editor, it was actually a student run initiative. And it’s been going on for years. So when I got to Scranton, I thought after settling on, I thought it would be nice, a nice idea to do something similar. So we got together, the students that we started something called Black Diamonds. A literary magazine, and I was the editor, and I did that to my left, actually, even last year outside left, I still worked on the, on the last edition, the last issue. So it really was an opportunity for students, faculty members to share their artwork, their poetry, their photography to write about patients’ experiences and write about life. Yeah, and it was interesting, it was very time consuming, but at the same time, when you’re doing something that you really enjoy, then it doesn’t feel like work.
Sometimes it does, but there’s a bigger purpose behind it, I think, yeah. And then it was during my time in Scranton, that I picked up the ukulele as well and I had always liked the idea of singing in groups and doing things in, like, maybe going out to nursing homes and singing, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to do that before. But then somebody started a ukulele group so I joined that. And then we would sometimes go to nursing homes and sing, sing at different events during the holidays. And, yeah, and then so it’s been one thing leading to another to another, and then just in the last week or so, I recorded myself singing the national anthem, actually, both the Nigerian and the US National Anthems for a conference that starting this week and in the past, I never would have thought, I would never would have been bold enough to do something like that, but, I’ve always felt like I need to keep finding ways of expressing myself artistically. it’s something that’s, it just doesn’t go away. When you have a passion for something you keep looking for those outlets, and ways of expressing and and sharing, sharing those interests, sharing those talents. I hesitated to even talk about talent because they didn’t really consider me talented at all. To me, if I was musically talented, I’d really be a lot better. I like to do that. I just enjoy it. Yeah, it’s been an interesting, it’s been an interesting road, but I just, yeah, I finally have come to the point where I realized, okay, it’s okay to have all these interests and still be a doctor it doesn’t make me abnormal. It’s just there’s, there’s a reason our left and right brain are connected, there’s a reason the corpus callosum exists.
Because the left and right brain are supposed to work together I don’t really believe in the dichotomy between left brain and right brain, I think that we could do a lot more if we, if we allowed ourselves to be created to express our creativity to, to bring our creativity, even into medicine, and to healthcare and the way we interact with our patients as well. So I think I’ll stop here for now.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: You brought up so many good points, because I remember all of those points like, they say what’s your major in college and, and you’re expected to major in something that will give you a professional skill. And it’s interesting, just because of the way we’re programmed, such as arts and humanities, literature, music are sort of put on the side because they can’t, because you really have to have a strong talent in order to really make a living. But you also brought them a lot of good points, because in medical school, luckily, we also had a class where it was like a Friday lunch, and we’d have people speak about ethics and death and dying. And so yeah, really, but a lot of medical schools don’t have that. So what do you think about how medical schools can start incorporating creativity into their curriculum? And what are the benefits of doing that?
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: So I think it’s so important. And so like I mentioned, Penn State has a strong program. I actually think that medical schools are starting to do or a number of medical schools are starting to incorporate the humanities into their curriculum. I think that’s actually at the graduate medical education level that there’s much more of a challenge. And I’m actually part of an initiative here, here, within the hospital, our health system, to incorporate cert to develop a medical humanities curriculum, because it’s, again, we recognize that it’s really important to talk about all these things, whether or not they had any of it in medical school, it’s something we need to keep bringing up in their education medical ethics professionalism.
So there’s one aspect is the didactic aspect, the theoretical theoretical aspect, how to deal with ethical dilemmas and how to comport yourself professionally and all that. But then the other aspect is how can we use the arts to improve the way we provide health care? Right, how can we maybe incorporate music therapy into what we do? How can we? How can we use the arts for our own well being to maintain balance in our own lives? So there’s so many different facets and I think that’s it’s important for us to realize that these things are important, and it’s not just, it’s not just, they’re not just extras, it’s not just touchy feely stuff, these things really matter. It’s important to learn about the history of medicine, it’s important to learn about things that happened in the past. Ethical Issues that things about, we talk about the Tuskegee studies and stuff, like things like that so that we don’t repeat those mistakes of the past, if we don’t talk about them, how will we know that we shouldn’t do that in the future? How do we know how to prevent things like that from happening in the future?
So I think that I think more and more people are understanding beginning to understand and appreciate the importance of the humanities, in medical education again, how do we how to enforce it, and how to implement it, especially at the Graduate Education, Graduate medical education level is is a challenge. And we’re, but hopefully I think that there are ways to do it. It’s much more challenging, because the curriculum is so structured as medical students’ curriculum and residents are, I mean, they’re physicians, they’re working, they’re busy. But I think that if we recognize that it’s important enough, then we’ll make the time for it. and yeah, so it involves a lot of buy-in from leadership and from the trainees themselves, but, but hopefully, they’ll they’ll come by they come around and realize the importance and participate.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: A lot of good points because, right now physicians whether for their own wellbeing or for a patient’s well being, they have to learn all of these outside of the curriculum. So it’s very interesting that there’s physicians such as yourself leading initiatives to start incorporating humanities into the curriculum, making providers more aware of a lot of social issues, not only for themselves, but also for the benefits and care of the patients.
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Yeah, exactly. The other thing that I forgot to mention is that, this is another aspect. Another reason why why I think it’s important to to encourage people who have, who are encouraged people who are interested in medicine and health care, to not forget about their musical interests, or their artistic interests are to actually encourage people who have those abilities to go into healthcare if, if they if they’re so inclined.
So let me give some specific examples. If a person is musically trained, now, I learned music. I like to say I learned it in a very haphazard way but for people who are properly trained in music, the level of ear training you have is significant, and that can have an impact. When you’re providing patient care and you’re learning to listen to the heart sounds and you’re learning to listen to, what does a murmur sound like? It can really make a significant difference. If your vision is developed, so well as an artist that you can appreciate minor, very minor differences in, in color in in color and texture when you’re examining artwork, that might translate into your ability to read radiographs, to pick up to pick up very subtle changes on an MRI and that sort of, and these are things that I don’t think we’ve explored well enough, but I think that there’s so much potential there and, and we really need I think we could do a better job of, again, bringing the arts and the sciences together.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That’s interesting. Yeah. So you brought up a very interesting point of using hearing and then your different five senses at home make you a better physician. Yeah. That’s actually quite interesting. I know you recently had a YouTube upload with your work as well. So you want to tell us more about that.
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: So which one are you talking about? I’ve had a couple.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Well, the one that will.. for the listeners, how can they go in look at your work and view it?
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Okay. Okay, thank you. So personally, I have a website that’s just thedoctorwriter.com It’s all one word. And some of my work is there. And then there are links to various things that I’ve done and links to some of my photo books. I found a way of combining my interest in writing with my interest in photography. And so I have two photo books. One is called Scranton, A Place to Call Home. I took pictures of places in and around Scranton, and put little bits and pieces of historical information in there. And that was for the 150th anniversary of Scranton, which was in 2016. So I moved away from Scranton last year, right about the time the pandemic was starting. I now live in Redding, Pennsylvania, but I also have another photo book about butterflies.
So it has my butterfly photography and then again, pieces of information about the different butterfly species and their life cycles and all that. And that’s available on Amazon but there’s a link on my website as well. If you want to find out about my Professional work, that’s the I work at Caron Treatment Centers. So if you go to Caron.org you can find out about and read more about the research that we’re doing related to addiction medicine, that’s a whole other area as well.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: For all the viewers then all of the resources given by Dr. Olapeju will be put in the show notes as well as your website as well. So Thank you so much. So as we conclude, what are your final words for listeners? What do you want them to be the biggest takeaway message for inspiration, motivation?
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Well, don’t, don’t limit yourself, don’t limit yourself if you want to be a doctor, be a doctor. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be an artist, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be a musician. I finally got to the point, I used to feel as if there was something wrong with me and I finally got to the point where I’m comfortable with just being who I was created to be. And I finally realized I really, I can be a physician scientist and a physician artist at the same time. It’s a matter of just just a matter of finding out what works. Sometimes you’ll have to put some things on hold and focus on one thing at a time, one or two things at a time, you can’t do everything at the same time. But yeah, it is, it is possible to have multiple interests and to excel in different areas, and it doesn’t it doesn’t make us abnormal. But yeah, so I would encourage people to just like I say, Stop trying to be normal, and just be the superstar you were created to be.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Those are fantastic words of advice.
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Thank you.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Thanks so much for coming on to this show.
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: You’re welcome.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: We look forward to having you back in the future.
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan, MD: Okay. Thank you so much, Chris. It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at Chris@drchrisloomdphd.com. I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.