Connecting Music to Medicine
By Laura Marie Lazar | One of the most rewarding aspects of 1999 Coca-Cola Scholar Robert Accordino’s career is the “extraordinary window” he says he has been given into his patients’ lives.
As a resident physician in pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, he is provided a chance to connect with his charges and their families at a time of great vulnerability and is allowed to be of true value to them at their most difficult moments. With this wonderful insight and ability comes an unshakeable and intimate knowledge of some of life’s greatest trials—but also its most inspiring triumphs.
The constant emotional rollercoaster weighs heavily on any health care professional, and Robert is no exception. To deal with this particular brand of workplace stress, Robert writes. Through “memorializing the intense experiences with these patients by putting my thoughts on a blank page,” Robert says, he is able to provide himself with a therapeutic method of balancing his work with his outside life and ensure that the feelings each interaction inspire in him are preserved and accessible whenever he may need them.
No ordinary physician, Robert does not stop there. In an extension of the worldview that has carried Robert through his life, he also is taking his experiences and using them to promote social change. Recently, he began contributing as a blogger for The Huffington Post. Robert is hoping to use his particular vantage point to advocate for the well-being of the whole patient—precisely when the patient and family members are at their most vulnerable—and to shed light on the extraordinary privilege and responsibility of caring for patients.
This ability to see the connections between seemingly small actions and the greater good those actions can produce for those in need has been a theme throughout Robert’s professional career, no matter how tangential those connections may appear to be. “More and more, as I look back at the trajectory of my life,” Robert says, “I find that I tend towards marrying seemingly competing interests in synergistic ways.”
He has paired his talent as a musician and singer, for example, with his clinical and research interest in autism. Since his initial fascination with the condition, inspired by an undergraduate psychology class at Princeton University, Robert has gone on to become the United States founder of Music for Autism, a non-profit organization that provides fully subsidized interactive concerts for individuals with autism and their families. Through these concerts, Robert has sought to create not only a safe space catered to the unique requirements of this population, but also to open the eyes of society to the pressing need for greater awareness and acceptance of this community.
Under Robert’s leadership, the charity raised over $300,000 for its programs and expanded its reach nationally, from New York City to Boston and, as of 2011, all the way to Los Angeles, along with several cities in between. Robert set up collaborations with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and trained performers as diverse as cast members from Glee and Grammy-nominated and Tony Award-winning artists to create Music for Autism programs. Remarkably, Robert oversaw the organization’s phenomenal growth all while juggling the demands of being a full-time medical student.
As Robert’s experiences and knowledge grew, he discovered that an interest in autism is, inherently, an interest in medicine. “There are so many varied and unique challenges that those with autism and their families face that many of the traditional routes to treatment fail us when dealing with those with this condition,” Robert says. This awareness has led Robert to the next chapter in his journey. Starting in the summer of 2012, Robert will continue his training at New York Presbyterian- Cornell Medical Center, with plans to specialize in child and adolescent psychiatry.
His hope is to contribute to the growing, but still vastly underdeveloped, study of how physicians can provide the best clinical care to patients with autism and their families.
For more on Music for Autism, visit www.MusicForAutism.org. For more on Robert’s blogging for The Huffington Post, check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-accordino-md-msc.
Laura Marie Lazar is a volunteer and Jr. Board member with Music for Autism. She grew up in Hong Kong and currently lives in New York City, where she moved after graduation from the University of Notre Dame. She currently works at the Asia Society, a non-profit organization that focuses on strengthening the intellectual and cultural dialogue between the United States and the countries of Asia, through arts, public policy, education, and leadership initiatives.