KU News Release

May 20, 2011
Contact: Cari Merrill, School of Medicine-Wichita, 316-293-3535

Graduation stories: Jeff Robinson pursues medicine but doesn’t give up on piano

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WICHITA — Classical composers like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms aren’t typically paired with stethoscopes, scalpels and surgeries. But for University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita graduate Jeffrey A. Robinson, art and science go hand-in-hand.

Often, people only know of Robinson’s incredible talent at the piano or for his great intellect as he’s worked to become a pediatrician. But Robinson is both and says the connection of music to medicine is not uncommon.

Jeff Robinson (photo courtesy of School of Medicine-Wichita)

“The more doctors or people in medicine I meet, the more I hear of that connection between music and medicine,” he said.

A longtime KU student — he’s been enrolled for 10 years, earning two degrees — he graduates from the School of Medicine this month. Without a second to spare, he will move to Minnesota to spend three years as a general pediatrics resident at the esteemed Mayo Clinic.

Although practicing medicine is in his future, Robinson wasn’t always interested in the career. He’s an avid math and science enthusiast, but music is Robinson’s first love. He started playing the piano in third grade — his parents were interested in getting him involved in a stimulating, after-school activity.

“There was a lady, Marie Graham, who lived down the block from us and every Tuesday afternoon, I’d walk down and have my piano lesson, and I just took to it,” the Garnett native fondly remembers. “I always liked it, and I get a lot of joy from it now.”

That love grew, and Robinson continued with piano all throughout junior and senior high school. When it came time to choose an undergraduate major, he grappled with the decision.

“Coming out of high school, I wanted to do something that none of the rest of my high school classmates were going to be doing in college,” said Robinson, who had friends interested in becoming doctors, engineers and physics majors. “Piano was something I was good at but no one else in my high school class could do.”

During high school summer breaks, he studied with Richard Reber, professor of piano at KU. With this connection and a familiarity with the other piano faculty, he auditioned for — and won — a scholarship and entered KU as a piano performance major.

After three years of diligent piano performance studies, Robinson learned he was 10 elective credits short of his graduation requirements.

“I weighed a bunch of options on what I could do,” he said. “I could take two humanities classes each semester, which sounded like a lot of work to me, or I could take one chemistry class and lab each semester. I had missed the sciences during my piano training so I thought that would be a great opportunity.”

It wasn’t just chemistry but honors chemistry and the class renewed Robinson’s interest in science.

“I had a really great experience and a really great professor, Robert Dunn. He used a lot of examples that pertained to medicine and that re-sparked my interest in science and subsequently in medicine,” Robinson said.

He then began shadowing Dr. G Charles Loveland, a Lawrence pediatrician, and eventually started working as a medical assistant for the pediatric group.

That pushed him to complete his prerequisites for medical school before applying to the KU’s School of Medicine.

Robinson’s new endeavor didn’t mean his interest in piano would fall by the wayside. During his first two years of medical school, he scheduled two hours a week to practice. But once he began his third-year clerkships at the School of Medicine-Wichita, which meant spending time on rotations including surgery, pediatrics and family medicine, his time to practice was limited.

As a medical student living in an apartment, owning a piano was neither practical nor financially feasible. Luckily for Robinson, the Deans Club on the Wichita campus purchased a baby grand piano two years ago and it’s available any time of day for him to practice his musical drills.

Occasionally, Robinson tickles the ivories during the day, sweet sounds of Bach or Beethoven echoing through the school, but his real practice sessions happen when the school is almost empty.

“Usually no one’s around except the cleaning staff and security guards,” said Robinson, who typically holds practice sessions at 5:30 a.m., 9 p.m. or on Sunday afternoons. “My intention was to go on to have a career performing classical music and teaching at the college level, but I knew there might be potential along the way that it might not work out for me so I wanted to go to a school that offered liberal arts as well as science classes.”

This spring, after spending his fourth year of medical school interviewing at several hospitals across the country for his residency, Robinson matched at the Mayo Clinic in pediatrics on March 17. Now that he’s officially earned his medical degree, he’s moving to Rochester, Minn., to start his general pediatrics residency.

“It was a really great surprise,” he said. “The Mayo Clinic is competitive and you don’t have a good sense of how that is going to go with so many people applying. It’s like that for everyone. Everyone puts their faith in a computer program and hopes it works out.”

Also during his fourth year of medical school, he found two more passions within pediatrics — surgery and cardiology. His plans are to pursue a fellowship in pediatric cardiology, which means another match process and another three years of training.

Following all of that, he says, there’s a strong possibility he’ll return to Kansas since this is his home.

“Residency is a nice opportunity to get training in another part of the country, develop your skills and see where things take you.”

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