University of Vermont

College of Medicine

Lessons from Jazz: Interns Begin Residency

Mitchell Tsai, M.D.’03, assistant professor of anesthesiology and director of OR management and operations at Fletcher Allen, local valve trombonist George Voland, and three other Vermont-based jazz musicians, demonstrate the similarities between leadership in a jazz quartet and leadership among medical teams as part of orientation week for 62 new UVM/Fletcher Allen residents.
Mitchell Tsai, M.D.’03, assistant professor of anesthesiology and director of OR management and operations at Fletcher Allen, local valve trombonist George Voland, and three other Vermont-based jazz musicians demonstrate the similarities between leadership in a jazz quartet and leadership among medical teams as part of orientation week for 62 new UVM/Fletcher Allen residents. (Photo: Erin Post)

On Monday, June 16, 2014, Fletcher Allen Health Care welcomed 62 new residents – freshly graduated from medical school – to Vermont’s academic medical center where they will complete training for the next three to seven years, depending on their specialty. In addition to absorbing large volumes of new information, protocols and policies over the course of the next few months, these physicians will be taking on an additional, but vitally important new role – as teachers of students at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

Nine of the new doctors are Class of 2014 alumni of the UVM College of Medicine: Katherine Anderson, M.D., pediatrics; Agnes Balla, M.D., and Alison Krywanczyk, M.D., pathology; Jenna Pariseau, M.D., obstetrics and gynecology; Nicholas Phillips, M.D., neurology; David Reisman, M.D., family medicine; Molly Rovin, M.D., and Anjali Varigonda, M.D., psychiatry; and W. Gabriel Tharp, M.D., Ph.D., anesthesiology. Residents represent a wide range of specialty areas. In addition to these alumni, there are three anesthesiology residents, five family medicine residents, 19 internal medicine residents, two neurology residents, one neurosurgery resident, two obstetrics and gynecology residents, three orthopaedics residents, one otolaryngology resident, three pathology residents, six pediatrics residents, two psychiatry residents and six general surgery residents. The residency class also includes four dental surgery residents, bringing the entire group total to 66.

Among the orientation week’s long list of activities was a unique session titled “The Jazz of Leadership and the Discipline of Teams.” Co-led by Mitchell Tsai, M.D.’03, assistant professor of anesthesiology and director of OR management and operations at Fletcher Allen, and local valve trombonist George Voland with support from three other Vermont-based jazz musicians, the session demonstrated the similarities between leadership in a jazz quartet and leadership among medical teams. The two session leaders, who met each other in a restaurant and have been offering the session to residents for six years, refer to the educational activity as “metaphor in action.”

Tsai was first exposed to this type of program at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, where he earned a master’s degree in medical management, and knew the leadership lessons would translate well to a medical environment.

“Every four weeks on the wards, we rotate medical students, acting interns, senior residents,” explains Tsai. “We pull together to take care of the patient with no practice. Jazz musicians don’t either, but they hold that structure together. How?”

Through different performances and small group discussions, students learned how communication and listening skills, mutual respect and a thorough understanding of the material – in the case of the musicians, their musical structure – allow a team to work together effectively, unrehearsed, and achieve a positive outcome.

“Everyone has something to teach you – what to do, what not to do,” says Voland, who traversed the McClure conference room while playing during one performance vignette, representing a team member who goes off in his/her own direction.

“We’re trying to give you a structural framework of what you’re going to go through (as residents),” says Tsai. “It’s going to happen fast. You are not going to get through this by yourself.”

The residents heard several numbers, including Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” from the jazz musicians, who in addition to Voland, included bassist Clyde Stats, Jake Whitesall on saxophone, and Steve Blair on guitar.