Sound Medicine: A student doc writes “Med School Rock”

Still from “Never Gonna Give You Up, iPhone” by John Paro (courtesy of John Paro)

A doctor’s office is a place where unpleasant scenes are played out and originality is not welcome. Compromising procedures and performances occur. There is little room for mimicry and things are often uncomfortable. But “Med School Rock,” an album recorded and produced by University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine student John Paro, is not a work of sterile white rooms and bedside manners. While the album, divorced from context, has an effect similar to that of a steel medical tool on the skin, this knee-jerk reaction is drastically reduced upon considering the circumstances of the album’s conception.

“Med School Rock,” recently featured on NBC and available on iTunes, is an instructive tool meant to entertain and teach medical students attempting to memorize gruesome quantities of material. Proceeds from sales of the album will fund a scholarship for Pritzker students like Paro, who want to pursue a healthy hobby but need financial assistance.

Paro chose not to abandon his lifelong hobby of music when he got into medical school. He kept on playing his guitar and singing, and incorporated new life experiences into his work. “Med School Rock,” full of self-deprecating lyrics–”I love books. I hate fun. I’m smarter than everyone”–is heavy on the self-awareness and irony, and comes across as Weird Al Yankovic meets Patch Adams and UofC social angst. The resulting mnemonic device is far from a typical product of the UofC’s medical school, or any other medical school, for that matter.

Paro is quite aware of the outlandishness of his extracurricular activity. He sent a video of his song “Scrubbin” to his class listhost, thinking that they would “probably delete it or listen to it and think I’m weird.” Paro says he was making the music for his fellow medical students, an audience in the know. He never intended his musical pursuits to go viral–they were “mostly just supposed to be entertaining and a study break.” It was something he decided to do “on the off chance they’d enjoy it.”

It seems his intended audience has indeed found much camaraderie in the collective suffering addressed by Paro’s study breaks. What began as a calming solo project has made many a bleary-eyed twenty-something laugh out loud in a library, judging from the grateful emails that Paro has been receiving. The album has received rave reviews from the medical school elite, and populism has spoken: “Scrubbin” has received over 183,505 views on YouTube.

The unforgivable goofiness of Paro’s work is mediated, and possibly neutralized, by the educational purpose of the songs. Paro focused on incorporating medical terminology into easy-to-remember melodies. This strategy was meant as a study aid for his classmates, an attempt to cement terms and concepts in their overburdened brains. He modeled the idea on the well-known Schoolhouse Rock videos. Paro hopes the concept can be expanded to serve other medical and study purposes, with versions tailored to such specific areas as commonly forgotten Medical Board questions. “In my wildest dreams, this becomes a new Schoolhouse Rock brand, with different ones marketed for first-year medical schools, second-year medical schools.”

There are some serious, positive results coming out of this edu-rock, as well as a few innocent chuckles: “Tell me, what’s the myotome for my middle finger?” For the most part, though, Paro is speaking to a select group. But as a representative of the general population that depends on the services and competency of his intended audience, I appreciate whatever helps them remember how to mend our problems–and if it brings cheer to their late nights of studying, all the better. Just so long those mnemonics don’t actually encourage medical students to think along the lines of “arteries, nerves, it’s all the *&#$^ same.” No, it’s not–but then again, neither is Med School Rock.