During the school year, most medical students spend their Saturdays hitting the books. But Audrey Kindsfather, ’15, who is in the Physician Scientist Training Program at the University of Pittsburgh, isn’t a typical medical student.
Saturday mornings, Audrey can be found playing her harp at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s children’s hospital and kidney dialysis unit. She’s a member of MusiCare, a program that brings medical students who are also musicians to perform for hospital patients. “We have several violinists, a cellist, a really great saxophonist, and some vocalists and pianists. We’ll have different people play one to four songs, and we’ll alternate for an hour or so, depending on how much music we have,” said Kindsfather.
Kindsfather got involved with the group shortly after beginning medical school, and she credits her undergraduate experience at Richmond with helping her find time to pursue her passions in both music and medicine.
She majored in biochemistry and molecular biology, and conducted research in biology professor Angie Hilliker’s lab. “Everything I learned from Angie prepared me for doing research at a huge institution like Pitt, and my work in her lab doing basic translation and regulation got me interested in genetics and epigenetics, which I’ll pursue next year during my research year,” she said.
At the same time, Kindsfather was an Artist Scholar, teaching harp, playing in chamber ensembles and the UR Symphony Orchestra, and even traveling to Cartagena, Colombia on a cultural exchange.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to be so involved with both science and music,” she said. “When I was looking at colleges, that was something I didn’t really find anywhere else.”
Though the demands of medical school are significant, her strong music background from Richmond motivated Kindsfather to seek out opportunities to perform and MusiCare was a great fit. “The wonderful thing about MusiCare is that it is so flexible; you can go one time or several times a month,” she said. “I go on Saturday mornings and then I have the rest of the day to study.”
As she works on her medical degree, with a specialty in OB/GYN, Kindsfather sees firsthand the benefits her music can have on patients. She recalled one gentleman who she sees each Saturday as he received dialysis treatment; he was always wearing headphones, but one day he took them off, listened to the music, and smiled.
“I think music is definitely good medicine,” she said. “It has many different ways that it can heal the body. There are the psychological and spiritual aspects, but it also has a physical effect on the body, lowering blood pressure and lowering stress hormone levels.”
Kindsfather also enjoys playing in the lobby of the children’s hospital and introducing young people to her instrument. “It’s fun to get these kids minds off where they are, and why they might be at the hospital that day,” she said.
While her main goal is providing joy to others through music, Kindsfather feels that participating in MusiCare benefits her as well. “One of the things we learn in school is how to have empathy and to connect with patients,” she said. “Being involved with this group has been a wonderful way to do that. I can connect with patients through music, and then talk with them about why they are in the hospital and get to know them.”
“It’s nice that I get to see some of these patients every week,” she said. “It’s sad that they are still there, but I like getting to know them and playing music for them.”