Early on in my professional journey as a physician, I had a calling to work with infectious diseases. Little did I know then how big a role this medical subspecialty would play in my life: training in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; working on outbreaks of anthrax, Ebola and H1N1 virus in the U.S.; and caring for COVID-19 patients at AdventHealth in Florida throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
From an epidemiological perspective, COVID-19’s fast-growing spread and global pervasiveness presented significant challenges the health care field hadn’t seen with previous diseases. My colleagues and I cared for so many gravely ill patients. We experienced fear and anxiety about spreading COVID-19 to our families when we returned home after work. Most tragically, hundreds of patients died, many without loved ones by their side, which had a huge emotional toll on all involved.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for infectious disease clinicians like me during this time was trying to balance caring for patients with disseminating crucial information on such a large scale — and doing it without losing speed or efficiency. It’s easier said than done at a health system with 80,000-plus employees.
A Cathartic Experience Performing with Colleagues in the AdventHealth Orchestra
One day at work during the pandemic, I saw an auditions announcement for a new, staff-only orchestra. Led by Richard Hickam, AdventHealth director of music and the arts, the orchestra became a way for health care employees to manage stress and express ourselves artistically in a safe environment.
My wife, Grace, and I both decided to audition for the orchestra and were selected. Grace is a nurse at AdventHealth, and she and I have musical backgrounds and play several instruments. We were excited about playing in a musical ensemble with colleagues and saw it as a distraction from the pandemic.
The first day of rehearsal was cathartic if not revelatory. My clinical colleagues shared music stands alongside AdventHealth vice presidents, the chief information officer, front-line nurses, lab team members and so many others.
After a few rehearsals, the orchestra gave its premiere performance, recorded at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando. Our first piece, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” is a beautiful melody known for its tear-jerking pathos. We dedicated the performance to patients and loved ones we’d lost during the pandemic.
The performance was so well received by our community — and the experience so meaningful to us — that we resolved to continue the ensemble. The AdventHealth Orchestra plays on to this day and has increased its membership and number of performances.
In December 2022, we’ll be performing an ambitious program of pieces by Tchaikovsky, Leroy Anderson and Georges Bizet for the public.
Insights from Sharing Music, Stories During the Pandemic
I’ve gleaned a myriad of lessons from playing in an orchestra. Performers must listen, communicate and be accountable to one another in real time, while blending technical skills with an emotional depth — all of which builds empathy.
The AdventHealth Orchestra has been a wonderful experience as well as an effective way to address staff burnout and promote resilience and mental health in the workplace.
One of the most important lessons from the pandemic is the value of communicating and using platforms like the AHA’s Living Learning Network to be inspired and inspire others to find creative solutions to everyday challenges. The LLN is a virtual community that connects health care professionals across the country to share knowledge and ideas and problem-solve together. Some of these connections and experiences are highlighted in the LLN’s recent pandemic reflection book.
As a field, we can make a conscious effort to share stories that convey the humanity behind the scenes of health care. Doing so will help us build stronger bonds among hospital teams, between clinicians and their patients, and between clinicians and the communities they serve.
Vincent Hsu, M.D., is an infectious diseases and preventive medicine physician at AdventHealth Orlando, where he also serves as medical director of continuing medical education and assistant director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program.
Hsu recently joined the AHA for a Facebook Live broadcast to discuss the bivalent booster and the importance of vaccinating and boosting kids against COVID-19. To see more of Hsu’s story and others like it, check out the AHA Living Learning Network’s “The Pandemic: Responding with Resilience and Service to Community.”