We Are Not Throwing Away Our Spot

It started with a simple Facebook post in October 2016.

Medical schools across the country have a tradition of showing music videos produced by the current first-year class in order to attract students to their schools. During our Revisit Weekend in April, we were surprised to discover that the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) didn’t feature one. Resolving to correct this and excited about the prospect of embarking on a creative endeavor that would capture the essence of our school, we reached out to the Admissions Office to see if they would be able to support this.

After Jordan had an initial meeting with the Associate Dean of Medical Education, Michelle Sainté, a small group of dedicated students assembled over pizza in an Annenberg lecture room one evening, to discuss our plan of action, specifically: what songs we could parody that would best represent the ISMMS experience.  After a short debate and the astute realization that “Icahn School of Medicine” happened to have the same number of syllables as “Alexander Hamilton,” (hum it out for yourself!) a lofty decision was made: We wouldn’t just parody one song from the Pulitzer-prize winning musical, Hamilton, but we would undertake a medley of songs.

This certainly was not going to be an easy feat: Hamilton is musically challenging. It is filled with complicated harmonies, syncopated rhythms, clever raps, and a variety of styles—not to mention the added concern that blending the medley would present. We had a vision, however, and were confident that our collective talents would dispel our concerns, and so we carried on.

Shortly after our initial meeting, a smaller group of dedicated students (the authors of this article, in fact) stuck around and agreed to help spearhead this initiative.  We all naturally accepted roles that catered to our strengths. Given their backgrounds in a cappella, jazz, classical music, arranging, and orchestration, Jordyn and Charles were responsible for writing the lyrics and directing the musical score; Catharine lead the choreography team, because of her extensive dancing experience; and Jordan, along with three other members of the team, directed the video’s logistical and production elements.

Since our first year began with several conversations about loneliness and isolation in medical school, we hoped that this project would bring our entire class together to combat those sentiments. In fact, that was one of our primary goals with this project, and we encouraged all to participate—to whatever extent they would like.

When considering the content of our video, we also thought it was important to avoid focusing on the negative aspects of medical school (i.e., long days of studying,  the student social life void, or the scholarly superiority complex because of Step scores or USNWR rankings). Instead, we overtly decided to highlight our community’s qualitative strengths rather than a third-party’s quantitative assessment of it. Focusing on the positive aspects of our school, our peers, and medicine as a whole was an affirming exercise that brought our student body together and improved our sense of empowerment and wellness as a community.

After determining the themes and concepts we wished to share, the lyric team got to work by replacing the words of hit musical numbers with Sinai-relevant lyrics. Mindful of syllables, rhyme, meaning, and respect to the original songs, the team crafted intelligent lyrics in less than eight hours. Overall, the preparation took over six months, including lyric writing, music and dance rehearsals (which were sometimes shadowed by a former Broadway music director), dictation and arrangement of harmonies, vocal sectionals, and a trip to a professional recording studio in Brooklyn. The project culminated with a full-day film schedule, which ran from 7 am-5 pm (Did we mention this happened during the week of our physiology final exam? Well, it did.).

 

Rather than serving as an additional stressor for us during this often hectic first year of medical school, this video project was an outlet for creative expression. It also reminded us just how fortunate we are to be living our dreams— becoming doctors at such a progressive institution, despite the universal challenges of medical education. Each rehearsal provided a moment for reflection and artistic expression during a day that would otherwise be inundated with medical studies. We created a project that we are truly proud of, that showcases many unique elements of Mount Sinai as well as the wealth of diversity in our classmates’ cultural and professional backgrounds.  We were able to share our experiences with accepted students at this year’s Revisit Weekend, giving them a glimpse of how their lives would never be the same if they chose to come to the Icahn School of Medicine.

It was our pleasure to work on this project. We hope that in the smallest way, it made everyone in the Mount Sinai community feel more welcome and grateful for our amazing institution and community. This video was and is a celebration of our home at Mount Sinai, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share our world.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jordyn Feingold, Jordan Francke, Catharine Kappauf, and Charles Sanky (pictured from left to right) are MD Candidates, Class of 2020 at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. They all share a love for social justice, personal wellness, music, dancing, and Broadway shows.

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