About to begin his second year of medical school at the University of Minnesota, Fadlullah Ba’th agreed to Advice columnist Dr. Charles Crutchfield’s request that he contribute a column about a young Black man’s journey to medical school and perhaps inspire others like him to follow their dreams into the medical profession.
I hear music everywhere. The whistling sounds of Korngold, Debussy and Beethoven bounce around my brain as I walk, listen to lectures, and prepare to sleep. I first picked up a violin as a two-year-old, and sound has been a big part of my life ever since.
I began performing professionally as an 11-year-old. Although violin came quickly to me, I was usually the only Black male at every violin studio, orchestra, and competition, so my journey with music is a story of overcoming adversity.
Specifically, I remember spending afternoons practicing instead of playing outside, placing in violin competitions with jammed fingers, and my mother pushing me to succeed because she knew that violin provided me with the best opportunity to get out of PG County, Maryland.
However, despite the tribulations, I believe that my ability to face adversity with perseverance and grit, as well as the creativity and fine motor skills I learned as a professional violinist, have been invaluable on my journey to medicine.
My journey would not have been possible without my mother’s help, who has always been a role model, encouraging me in the art of healing. I love the ability of music to take the audience away from their problems even if it was only for a few minutes, and my mother taught me the power of music.
The idea that I could heal in other ways first popped into my mind after reading the autobiography of a Black surgeon in grade school. However, the idea of being a physician was still a pipe dream, and my career as a violinist was taking off, which I saw as my way to a better life.
At 16 years old, I began college at Chestnut Hill College before transferring to Manhattan School of Music to pursue violin, learning the practice of patience, repetition, teamwork, communication and self-sacrifice. After two years as a professional violinist after school, I again felt the desire to provide my audience with more than a momentary escape. Wanting to blend music with medicine, I began reading about the psychology of music, general psychology, and neurology.
Realizing that my knowledge was limited in the treatment of disease, I enrolled in a clinical psychology master’s program and started working at Jordan House, a psychiatric crisis bed facility in Washington, DC. Throughout my study of both music and psychology, I supplemented classroom knowledge with real-world experience.
I learned time management, developed organizational and work skills, learned that confidence requires work and dedication. I saw how arrogance can destroy understanding, practiced dedication to a goal, and learned about striving towards perfection through constant improvement of skills and techniques.
I have had the pleasure of performing internationally as well as providing meaningful care to individuals in psychiatric crisis. Overall, I have learned that success in what I have done is a result of my being able to learn, adapt, and empathize with those I interact with.
As you might have suspected, I brought these lessons with me as I completed a post-baccalaureate at American University, through the medical school application process, and finally into my classrooms as a medical student.
Medicine, in the end, was the perfect choice that my two-year-old-violinist-self would have never expected. I never expected to end up in Minnesota or feel at home in a place so different from the East Coast. But I have learned that it is the unexpected parts of life that have brought me the most happiness.
Getting accepted to the University of Minnesota medical school was one of the happiest moments in my life. This happiness was quickly quelled knowing I did not have the finances to support this dream. Fortunately, my community gathered together and donated money at a fundraiser performance organized by my family.
At the end of the performance, when I realized my dream was possible, I danced because I believe that no matter how old you get, there are certain things that you are allowed to celebrate like a child.
And now, again, is a time to celebrate like a child, as I have completed my first year of medical school. It would not be a stretch to say that the initial transition into medical school was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. However, the lessons that I learned on my journey to medicine have given me the tools to make medical school fun as I created a balance between studying and spending time with the people that make this place feel like home.
When I first picked up the violin at age two, I knew that music was special. It could tell unique stories like that of a young Black man who found his calling in the art of healing.