Cardiology, Songwriting, and Avoiding Burnout
Episode 461

Suzie Brown, Singer-Songwriter/Cardiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Cardiology, Songwriting, and Avoiding Burnout

The key to physician wellness and caring for patients and living a more fulfilled life

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Cardiology, Songwriting, and Avoiding Burnout

Episode 461

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Cardiology, Songwriting, and Avoiding Burnout with Suzie Brown, Singer-Songwriter/Cardiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center transcript powered by Sonix—the best audio to text transcription service

Cardiology, Songwriting, and Avoiding Burnout with Suzie Brown, Singer-Songwriter/Cardiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best way to convert your audio to text in 2020.

Welcome to the Outcomes Rocket podcast, where we inspire collaborative thinking, improved outcomes and business success with today’s most successful and inspiring health care leaders and influencers. And now your host, Saul Marquez.

Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket, Saul Marquez here. Today I have the privilege of hosting Dr. Suzie Brown. The song here is actually from her new album and it’s gonna be a great talk. We’re going to dive into physician wellness folk singing, folk song writing, because she is a 1970s inspired folk pop songwriter. She has chased her unique muse for a decade, making modern day roots music that nods to the soul singer’s heartland rockers and blues artists who came before her glueing the sound together is the unforced voice, an honest autobiographical songwriting of a Renaissance woman who’s not only an acclaimed musician, but also a part time cardiologist and full time mom. How she does it all? I don’t know. But the important thing is that she is doing what we believe is the key to physician wellness and caring for patients and living a more fulfilled life. It’s been an incredible journey for her. She’s going to be talking about her experience as a musician, a cardiologist and a mom. And, you know, she began a born in Montreal and raised in Boston, spent time at Harvard Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania. During her 20s and 30s, she earned medical degrees, while also nursing growing need to create her own music. So you know what? It’s it’s a privilege to have her here. She’s out of Nashville and we’ll be diving into her story. So, Susie, it’s a privilege to have you here.

Suzie Brown:
Thank you so much.

Saul Marquez:
So what did I miss in your intro? Susie, that you want to fill in? You mean about my background?

Saul Marquez:
Yes.

Suzie Brown:
Well, I think it was all it was all, too. I’m the daughter of two physicians, too enthusiastic and I would say pretty happy physicians. They both love their job. We’d talk about it over the dinner table. And it was an appealing career choice for me. I was always good at science and math, and I like the idea of helping people and serving people. So I decided to study pre-med in undergrad, but I always had a music bug. I would listen obsessively to the people, you know, who I was into at the time, and I would learn every word to every song on every album and felt them at the top of my lungs in my bedroom. And I never really did much singing outside my bedroom until my senior year of college when I got up the guts to try out for an archipelago. I had had acappella envy my entire college life, but just dying to be in one of those groups. But I never had the courage to try out. And at the last minute. I got an email in the early days of email that there were Rocketfeller’s tryouts in fifteen minutes and I just dropped my books at the library. I was at the library setting for a physics test. I just left them at the library and I ran over there and try to get a group. And singing with that group really changed my life because I just realized that I get a feeling from singing and especially singing with other people that I don’t get doing anything else. And I also realized that musicians and creative people are my people. I think a lot of people’s struggle is not knowing where they belong, especially in college, in your 20s. And I was very clear to me where I belonged after I join this group.

Saul Marquez:
That’s so great. And I congratulate you for doing the uncommon thing. And the thing for you, you know, I feel like we try so hard to look good. We try so hard not to look bad. And oftentimes abandon that thing, which is most important to us. And man, that’s so cool that you did that. You know, you dropped your physics book and you went for it and you haven’t looked back.

Suzie Brown:
I haven’t looked back. So I graduated from college and I took two years off to work in a lab. And while I was working in the lab, I bought a guitar and started teaching myself how to play just so that I would have a way to keep singing. I was so sad that I wasn’t able to sing with the group anymore because I was no longer in college. So I bought a guitar and started picking out songs, all cover songs, but I would figure out songs and play them. And that just started a decade of conflict in me, which was that I was very dedicated to becoming a doctor. You know, I was doing I did basic science research and then started Harvard Medical School. But all along, I couldn’t kick the music bug and I would try and carve out ways to work music into my life whenever I could. It was obviously difficult in medical school and residency and fellowship. But I did it did manage to do it in my way.

Saul Marquez:
That’s awesome.

Suzie Brown:
Yeah. And when I moved to Philadelphia for my cardiology fellowship and I didn’t know anyone and I was working so much and the little music community that I had carved out for myself in Boston, I didn’t have anymore. And I found that surprisingly hard as my fellowship was coming to an end I felt things kind of coming to a head in that I never felt as fulfilled and happy as I thought I would, you know, with each stage of my training, with each passing milestone or accolade. I always thought, well, I’ll be happy when this happens. I’ll be happy when this happens. And I kept feeling like something’s missing. And I was pretty burned out by the time my cardiology, my clinical fellowship was over. And all I could think about was music. I got a master’s in translational research at the end of my cardiology fellowship. So I was in the lab and I had my nights and weekends free. Finally, for the first time in a really long time. And I started obsessively going to see a local Philly music and listening obsessively in the lab. And I just looked around and I thought, I really like all these other people. They all think about science all the time. They go to bed thinking about science and wake up thinking about science. I would have been thinking about music and wake up thinking about music. And it was it was pretty confusing,.

Saul Marquez:
I’m sure. So a lot of us are doing something that pays the bills. You’re doing well and you’re a health leader, you’re a provider. But there’s that one thing that maybe you wake up thinking about. Go to bed now. And yeah. Dr. Brown hair. Susie, there’s a reason she lives in Nashville. She’s she’s living her dream and doing the things that she wants to do as well, like be a cardiologist. And, you know, it’s just great. She’s living the example that I think many of us can learn from physician burnout thing. It’s real. What are your thoughts on this?

Suzie Brown:
I mean, it’s definitely real and I’ve experienced it. Medicine is unique in that you have to give so much of yourself. It’s not as the physician. Nothing is about you. And you’re at work. It’s all about the patient. It’s all about supporting the patient, the patient’s families, your team, doesn’t matter within a day you’re having. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life. Doesn’t matter that your water heater is broken. You don’t have any hot water. I mean, you just have to show up. Give, give, give, give. And then when you become a parent, you’re giving it home. And there’s very little space to fill your tank baths up to just giving, giving, giving. And then with all the changes in billing and reimbursement are administrative burden, it’s going up, up, up. And that’s not what what really fulfills us. None of us went into medicine to do billing. So this is very little room, the part of medicine, I think, that fulfills all of us. When you develop meaningful relationships and when you help people. But it’s hard to feel fulfilled by that when you’re bogged down by. Like I said, all the administrative stuff. When you’re pressed for time. And yeah, it’s just I think over time. I mean, anyone would break under that kind of pressure.

Saul Marquez:
That’s a lot of pressure. And so what nice would you give to physicians and even health care leaders that aren’t physicians working really hard and they’re starting to feel burnout?

Suzie Brown:
I have multiple thoughts about this in terms of what I would say to administrators? The answer is not to do a retreat or to set up meetings or do yoga at work or any of these things. We are all so busy. The last thing we need is another commitment for our time. We don’t have time. The way that administrators can help burnout is to give physicians more support for things such as billing and administrative duties. Free our time and then you can use that time and however you want to treat your burnout. There is this sort of experimental program at Stanford where physicians would earn credits for doing things that in general don’t pay, but are essential for the function of the hospital, such as if someone’s sick and unexpectedly out person who volunteers to cover them, you know, get a credit for serving on committees. And, you know, that’s anything that’s sort of invisible, important, but invisible. And the credits can be used towards the program. It’s over, I think. But the previous credits use for drycleaning, they’ll pick it up and like bring it to your house, babysitting someone to cook dinner for you, help with grants like administrative grants, stuff, those kinds of things to make your life easier. And it was an input. Yeah, it was an incredibly effective program in terms of overall like happiness and well-being of the staff. I think things like that is where administrators should be thinking,.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, I like that idea. And you mentioned that.

Suzie Brown:
Make our lives easier.

Saul Marquez:
Yes. You know, at the beginning you said, yeah. You know, we just, gosh, give, give, give. Right.. And yet another profession of a physician is very giving. And you know, I’m a dad, too, so I feel you on the giving end that the kids. And you just at the end of the day are drunk.

Suzie Brown:
Yeah. And then you’re lying in bed with your spouse and you literally don’t want to.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah.

Suzie Brown:
Like I get to the end of the day when I’ve had a crazy day at work and then the kids. I just you need you have like ten minutes yourself the entire day. Yeah, it just takes everything out of you to individuals about burnout, I will say that it’s really important to redefine your idea of success because I think in order really the key, I don’t know, this is just my personal opinion. I think people need to work less. I just think we work too much. And in order to work less, you probably will make less money and probably be less academically successful. Maybe. I know. I had to grapple with that, but I had to grapple with it. I went to a really prestigious places for school and went to Dartmouth and then Harvard Medical School. And I did my residency at the Brigham and I Fellowship at Penn. And it just seems like, you know, staying in academics is the moral high ground and being a successful researcher is the moral high ground. And it’s just not true. It’s that’s what people enjoy. And that’s what makes them tick by all means. That’s what you should do. But not everybody is like that. And some people like to garden and like to have more time with their family. And that’s perfectly acceptable. And it took me a long time to shake that need for external validation to feel good about what I was doing professionally. When I first decided to really pursue music, seriously, it was I was finishing my fellowship and I just was desperate to work part time because I really wanted to explore music more. And at the time I figured, oh, be just like my temporary plan and then I’ll go back to my real life quote unquote, and then offered me a part time job that was like a terrible job offer that paid terribly and I could only be part time for six years. And then I would have to be full time. And it was just a terrible job offer. And so I decided to go and work at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, which almost nobody has heard of outside of Philly, but which paid much better. And the job description was just something I really enjoyed, which was I got to do advanced heart failure and got to read echoes and read nuclear studies and outpatient do inpatient. The job was just the job that I wanted and it was a smaller hospital. But the people there were still well-trained and I felt like I could take good care of my patients there. And that’s what was right for me. If you would ask my medical school self, I would think that that job there was quote unquote a success compared to taking a job at Penn. I would’ve said no way. Yeah, but that was successful for me. That was successful in terms of what I wanted out of my job and my life. And I think that’s a really important thing to ask yourself. What do you want? What kind of job is going to make you happy and then get that job? It may be in a city that you didn’t think you would want to live in, like in order to get the work life balance that you weren’t. It may not. You have to comment on we’ll have a rapper. My something. Well, Nashville was for the dream.

Saul Marquez:
And you’re like over there. Yeah. Yeah. Which I love.

Suzie Brown:
Yeah. I basically said I want to live in Nashville because I was touring a lot at the time and I wanted to have a family. And I knew I would need to find a way to still be creative and nurture my musical side without touring all the time and Nashville as a writing town. So instead of getting coffee, people just get together and write a song. People just write songs, write songs, write songs. And I felt like that would be a great way to grow as an artist. Between the hours 9 and 5 in my own zip code, when my kids are young, you know, I’d still be home for dinner. So Nashville was the dream. So I just said to myself that I would just poke around and see if anybody was looking for a heart failure cardiologists in Nashville. So I got in touch with the people at Vanderbilt at the time. They were not looking, but they said email me in 6 months because where we may be looking at that time. So I did. And they were looking and they said, I want a half-time job. I wanna work 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. And they said, OK.

Saul Marquez:
And this is the thing, folks and Suzie, thanks for sharing the story. If you are not unreasonable, you’re not going to live the life you want. If you are not unreasonable, you’re not gonna live the life you want and Susie was unreasonable.

Suzie Brown:
You know, can I ask you to be an ask? I mean. Yeah.

Saul Marquez:
And I love how unreasonable.

Suzie Brown:
Yeah. I mean, if I hadn’t ask, it turns out that I do all that’s heart failure so Oh, that transplant. And yeah, most transplant dog groups have a group practice. So nobody, we all take care of all the transplant patients. So the way all of the attempts, the transplant attendings schedules are organized at Vanderbilt is on a week by week basis. So you do one week in the ICU, one week on the floor, one week in clinic and then transplant that week and then it just alternates. So it worked out much in terms of being part time in my job. It was much easier to do one week on, one week off or two weeks on, two weeks off than it would have been to work 2 or 3 days a week.

Saul Marquez:
Because of how it’s scheduled, right?

Suzie Brown:
Yeah. Because that’s how all the doctors schedules are done, and I don’t have a continuity clinic. I don’t have my own clinic. I only see transmen, bad patients. So when I’m not there, there’s another attendings who was in clinic that week or so, knows the patient equally well. Right. But if I haven’t ask, I would have realized that.

Saul Marquez:
That’s so great. I appreciate it. Yes. You know, the thing that came to mind to Suzie is I had a guest probably about two years ago. His name is Walter Wersowa. He has this business called HealthTunes, and he’s using music to change the rhythm of baby’s hearts in the neck.

Suzie Brown:
Oh, that’s so cool. I haven’t heard a little bit about that.

Saul Marquez:
I got to connected with them. Yeah. Walter, if you’re listening to this, I’m going to connect you with Susie. A look at.

Suzie Brown:
I’ve heard a little. My sister’s a neonatologist.

Saul Marquez:
Is she? Where?

Suzie Brown:
At Boston…. Oh actually she just…

Saul Marquez:
Oh she’s a… She stayed in the East Coast.

Suzie Brown:
Yeah.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. So. Yeah, you got a sister in it. I got to connected with Walter. I think there’s something there. And I’ve had probably about four or five guests that are focused on music therapy, just music and health care. You know, and yeah,.

Suzie Brown:
There’s some music is really healing for me. I know that is.

Saul Marquez:
OK. So. So tell me about a time you obviously shared the things you’re doing to have a more fulfilled career. And I’m taking notes here, and I think the listeners are also taking notes. I know you guys and gals are all taking notes probably. What can you do that’s unreasonable? Just ask. Tell us about a setback, what you learned from that setback.

Suzie Brown:
You mean like a profession? What? What kind of setback?

Saul Marquez:
You tell me something that’s meaningful to you that you feel we could learn from.

Suzie Brown:
I think the real things that I keep learning over and over again is what your ideas successes and to just keep redefining it. We live in such a success oriented society, like kindergarteners get a trophy for running around the track one. Yeah. You know, like everyone getting medals and prizes and I don’t know, I mean, especially in in music. The thing I struggle with is that I take it really seriously. I consider myself a professional musician, but I have less than half the time to dedicate to it than other people do who are just doing it full time. You don’t have a family. And that can be really frustrating because I feel like, well, you know, if I had more time, I I would have write more songs or better songs or I’d be a better singer, I’d be a better guitar player, or I’d have more time to tour. And maybe I would have gotten into that festival or I would have been recognized by this publication. You get your soul crushed by those kind of things all the time. As a musician, you know, applying to festivals and getting rejected and wanting to get press coverage by a certain outlet and they don’t want to cover your song on there all the time. But what I keep coming back to is I have to do this for me. I have to be an artist. Artists make art. You think Bob Dylan cared if someone didn’t like his music? You know, I think so. I don’t think so. He makes it because he has to. I mean, artists make art. So what I keep trying to come back to is all that stuff is is just fluff. You know, it’s just I mean, it would be nice. It’s like deserted. Be nice if it’s there. But it’s not the meal. The meal is make your art and put it out there and keep making your art. But it’s still it’s still coming back to like being a slave to external validation. I think they can make you miserable.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, no, I agree with you. One thousand percent. And you know, I also work and I run this podcast. It’s a choice. I mean, yeah, I’m unreasonable about my expectations in life. And what you’re saying to me really hits home because. Yeah, a lot of people have told me how to do it. Why? Why are you doing this? Yeah. I don’t care. I hear stories like yours that the listeners need to hear. And that’s why I’m doing it. And your message here, Suzie, is powerful for the people that haven’t thought about this, this idea of what other people think about your success. Just throw it away and go for what you want. You’d be surprised how it works out.

Suzie Brown:
I would bet that the Brigham and Women’s Hospital had a residency reunion when I was still working in Philly. And I went back and saw a lot of my friends I did med school and residency with. And, you know, I talked to the people who were still at the Brigham, which is admittedly a much more prestigious place to be than where I was. And they were getting paid about the same or maybe even less than I was getting paid at Einstein working to 80 hours a week. And I was working only 60 percent. And with no administrative support, no support anywhere, just a miserable job. And I just felt so lucky. I felt so lucky. I just I felt in my mind much more successful than if I. The Brigham so because I said happy your life.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. And what would you say is one of your proudest experiences to date in here? I would say care-music career.

Suzie Brown:
Well, I think on the medical side, I mean, I just feel I feel proud a lot when I take good care of a patient and when they’re grateful to me, there’s no feeling like that. That is really, really special. I deal with literally life and death. Patients come to me because they’re dying of failure. And I help see them transplant if it’s possible. And when someone comes in the clinic and shows me pictures of their grandchildren and says I never would have met her if it hadn’t been for you, and I don’t know how it could ever thank you. How can you have a better feeling than that? There’s just bad. There’s nothing better. And musically, I think I feel musically the most proud when my songs connect, when people connect with my songs. I have a song on my new album and I’ve gotten more fan mail and people coming up to me after shows about this song than any other song. And that ultimately is what I crave. Just to share share my thoughts and share my musical thoughts and have it resonate with people.

Saul Marquez:
What’s this about? And what is the most exciting project you have going on right now? Your new album?

Suzie Brown:
Yeah, my new album for sure.

Saul Marquez:
Tell us about it.

Suzie Brown:
So this is my sixth studio album. I have since moving to Nashville. This is my third album. But I had two children in pretty short order when I moved here. So I really haven’t had nearly the time or energy to dedicate to music that I used to have and that I would like to have. And this album was born as I was kind of emerging from the Newburn Fog. It felt like I was finally emerging from that just sleep deprived craze. And I had a little more time to dedicate to music and I was just craving it. I felt so deprived of that outlet, that big part of myself, I just felt like was asleep. And it’s intimidating in Nashville because everyone is so unbelievably talented. And I moved here seven months pregnant and then had two babies 20 months apart. So, you know, I don’t get out all that much. I wasn’t playing all that much in terms of live shows. And I wanted to get into the co-writing scene here. But I was really scared to ask people to write with me because I felt rusty and I hadn’t done a lot of co-writing before. But I just got up the guts and really reached out and ended up with a collection of songs that I was really, really proud of. But I still my self-esteem was kind of in the gutter musically because I just felt so out of practice and so irrelevant. And I was going to just make this album at home, just do it casually, cheaply. And I chose my producer and he said, Suzi Brown, this is not a vanity project. These songs are great. And if you’re a musical, self esteem is low. The last thing you should do is make this album casually at home. He said You need to make the best album you can possibly make something that you can be unequivocally proud of no matter what. And I’m so glad I took this advice. So we made it at a really world class studio with world class musicians like Leonard Cohen’s drummer played on it. Miranda Lambert, bass player and Dixie Chicks keyboard player. I mean, it was crazy. And I just. Every part of the album I took my time with. And I really made sure I did it 100 percent the way I wanted it. So I got a really professional photographer. I had a stylist and a makeup artist. And I hired someone to do my album, art, and I just did everything right. And I’m super proud of it. It came out July 26 and it’s been really well received. I’ve gotten you just some really nice attention for it. But then the best thing about it is that I felt 100 percent satisfied with the album before it even came out. I just was so proud of the music and I sort of felt like whatever happens with press and radio, I don’t even care. I’m just so proud of this album. So all that stuff has been great. But I felt just as happy with the album before all that happened.

Saul Marquez:
That’s great. Well, congratulations on that. And for you. Yeah. And if the listeners want to check it out. Where do they work it out?

Suzie Brown:
You can find it really anywhere. Music is available. So it’s Suzie Brown s u z i e and then brown like the color. It’s on Spotify. It’s on iTunes. It’s on Amazon. It’s on all those all those things. And the album is called Under the Surface. Under the Surface. And I made vinyl records. So if you’re into vinyl and want to copy, you can get it through my website, which is SusieBrownsongs.com.

Saul Marquez:
Love it. We’ll leave those links, folks, if you’re curious. Hey, maybe you’re a physician in your office. You need to listen to some tunes that inspire you. That gets you out of your burn out. Maybe you’re just somebody that wants to hear an awesome tune. We’ll leave the links for Susie’s music in the show notes. Just go to OutcomesRocket.health and type in Suzie Brown in the search bar and you’ll see the episode come up with all the show notes. Check those out. So tell us, Suzie, what book or resource would you recommend to the listeners?

Suzie Brown:
Or resource about what’s on burnout?

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, burnout or an online resource. You recommend something you feel people on that benefit.

Suzie Brown:
I’m a mom to young kids. I don’t read them. I do. I basically read like one page that I end up like on my Facebook feed ruling really fast asleep. So but I would say the best thing that I have that I use in terms of resources are mindfulness and yoga resources. That’s a really, really powerful tool for me. So I use an app called Yoga Glow. And it has like thousands of yoga classes on it. And there’s meditation. There’s all the way from like meditation to super physical yoga. And if I’m feeling like right at work, I just do it in my office. It really helps every center me.

Saul Marquez:
So it’s that yoga glow.

Suzie Brown:
Yoga glow. Yeah. It’s great. All different teachers, all different levels. And it just really helps me a lot.

Saul Marquez:
Yoga glow will leave a link to that in the notes to folks. Suzie, really appreciate you diving into your passions. What you do as a cardiologist is important and the music you’re putting out there is is is important, too. So. Thanks for being an example for us. Leave us with the closing thought and the best, best place for the listeners to get in touch if they want to continue the conversation.

Suzie Brown:
My closing thought is if you’re happy, you win. That’s the only thing that really matters. But if your job is super prestigious and fancy that you’re miserable, it’s not the right job for you. And you probably would be much happier at an unknown place where you have the work life balance you want and can see the type of patients you want and have the administrative support you want. If you’re happy that should be your metric of success.

Saul Marquez:
That’s awesome. I love that. So great. And Suzie, where can the listeners get in touch with you or continue following your work?

Suzie Brown:
The best places through my Web site, which is suziebrownsongs.com brown like the color and then songs.com.

Saul Marquez:
Outstanding. Suzie, really appreciate your insights and courage and appreciate you encouraging us to follow our dreams as well.

Suzie Brown:
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Thanks for listening to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.outcomesrocket.com for the show notes, resources, inspiration and so much more.

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