In some ways, music and medicine are in separate worlds. Medicine is fact-based and concrete, while music is ever-changing, emotional, and creative. But in other ways, the two are remarkably similar. Music, like a good doctor, can heal. It connects with people like a therapeutic touch or talk, and both music and medicine involve an intimate human connection. For the three doctors profiled here, music and medicine define their lives as they maintain a balance between medical and musical practice.
David White: Music is always waiting for me
Born and raised in Plano, Texas, David White calls Franklin, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, home today. His love of music started with teenage garage bands, inspired also by his older brother—a musician and dentist. David played electric and acoustic guitar and piano, but his heart gravitated toward songwriting, with Willie Nelson foremost in his mind.
“My mom bought my dad a classical guitar, I think because she wanted one, but neither of them played it. But I played it all the time,” he says. “His [Nelson’s] guitar is completely beat up, scratched up, and I wanted mine to look like his. So, I took a screw driver to it and completely damaged it so it would look road worthy, road worn.”
While White quickly learned to lay off the do-it-yourself guitar antiquing, he never lost his love of playing, even in the thick of medical school at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. He specialized in pediatrics and began his residency at the Wake Forest Medical Center in North Carolina. Drawn to Nashville, he transferred to Vanderbilt University.
“I decided I wanted to try professional music as a songwriter,” he says. And as he finished his residency, he learned to juggle his two passions. “There are seasons in life where you have very little time, very little music. But then there are seasons with lots of extra time. If you’re serious, you find a way to work it in. I think time management is crucial and that’s not unique to physicians. For anyone who works full-time or has a demanding job—time management is key.”
Today, White is part of a private pediatric practice near Nashville. He released a new album, Long Roots, June 9, and recently became a father for the third time.
The album, which took three years to complete, shows off White’s songwriting, playing, singing, and production skills. “I wanted to do as much of it myself as I could so I could learn and understand the process,” he says. “One of the caveats of a dual career is sometimes you have to set things aside. That’s true in life for everybody, I think. Patients take first priority. There might be a time where life is very demanding, a month or two where music is pushed to the side. But the good thing is the music is always waiting like a faithful puppy. And it always feels fresh coming back to it.”
Ed Stone: Music paid for school
Ed Stone has always been a musician at heart. Since he began guitar when he was eight years old, he’s maintained his craft. He’s released several albums, gigging his way through medical school by way of gig money. “That’s how I paid for school,” he says. “I performed in the evenings and saved my money from the gigs I was playing.”
Stone’s first degree was in Christian education. He got into a master’s program for speech pathology and considered dentistry, but found himself fascinated by human anatomy. Today he does house calls, caring for people who have physical limitations that make it difficult for them to leave their homes. He dedicates 20 minutes to 40 minutes to each patient, rather than a typically quick doctor’s office visit.
“It’s more intense,” he says. “I go to patients’ homes exclusively—people who are home-bound. It’s a stressful business. Patients are pouring out their hearts and I come up with treatment plans. It’s surprising how draining it can be.”
But it’s also rewarding. Stone has run his own practice for nearly eight years and finds similarities between his medical life and musical life. “They’re both people-oriented businesses,” he says. “You work with people in an intimate way—touching people. It’s pretty personal. If you write songs like I do—you’re putting what you think about out there in a musical form and touching people on a personal level. And both are analytical. There’s extreme overlap. Both require an incredible amount of discipline.”
Stone writes, sings, plays guitar, and produces his own albums. Additionally, he hopes to soon write a book on the connection between music and medicine. Currently, he’s promoting his latest album, King of Hearts, which he hopes to publicize on a national level through touring.
“I don’t travel much now, but I’m pushing in that direction,” he says. “As more opportunities open for music, I’ll keep moving through the doors I’ve always wanted to move through. It’s a long process, but as opportunities arise, I’ll figure out what to do and how to do it.”
James Robert Webb: I have to be able to change people’s lives for the better
For James Robert Webb, the connection between music and medicine is in how it affects those around him. “What still inspires me [with music] is what got me into songwriting in the first place,” he says. “For me to give this my all, I have to be able to change people’s lives for the better, like I can with my patients.”
Webb’s medical career is unique; he is one of 10 or 20 interventional musculoskeletal radiologists across the country. He focuses on osteoporosis and “hopeless cases”—helping people who have been told there’s nothing that can be done to help them.
He’s also a father of three and a professional country musician, splitting his time between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Nashville, Tennessee. Though he’s played music since first grade—first piano and later guitar, saxophone, percussion, and bass—he didn’t start writing songs and lyrics until 2008. And he didn’t start singing until four years ago.
“I was just writing and making demos for fun, doing my best work, but just for the love of the game, so to speak,” he says. “Then, a friend in the music industry heard what I was doing and was convinced that I should pursue it professionally. I had always loved music, but I hadn’t really considered the possibility of pursuing it full-time because I lacked confidence. Then I had this realization that, yes, I can do this. That word of encouragement was one of the things that helped me make the quantum leap from hobby to career.”
Beyond his own performing and writing, Webb also launched his own record label, Bison Creek Records in fall 2013. He hopes he’ll be able to work with other artists and aid in their development as well.
In 2013 Webb released Born This Day, a Christmas album, and he is currently working on his debut country album. He also tours regionally, all while staying attentive to his home life.
“I try to read to my kids every night before bed,” he says. “I make it a priority to sit down and talk to each of them every day—give them the chance to tell me about what is going on in their lives … I’m teaching my children by example. They will know that, if you want to achieve something extraordinary, you have to work for it. Hopefully they will also learn that family always comes first. At the end of your life, you only regret what you didn’t do.”
Webb consistently strives for the extraordinary, noting that the parallels between music, healthcare, and science lie in their most amazing capabilities. It’s the pioneers in both professions that push the limits and discover new, better ways to both heal people through innovative medicine and communicate with people through ever-evolving music.
In the end, it’s the change he can affect in others that Webb is always striving for.
“The number of people I can affect each day through medicine is limited,” he says. “But if I can write and sing a song that inspires others, uplifts them, then I have the potential to magnify the difference that I can make … I say to readers—don’t limit your goals. Do what your heart tells you. Follow your dreams.”