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Interview with Dr. Siobhan Deshauer

📷 Violin MD

Journalist: Haleema Ahmed

Haleema Ahmed: Hello everyone and welcome back to Scisection. I'm Haleema, your journalist for this week and today we are delighted to have Dr. Siobhan Deshauer. Dr. Siobhan is a first-year rheumatology fellow, a McMaster University medical school alumni, and the creator of Violin MD, which is a YouTube channel that has over 730000 subscribers and is viewed all across the world. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Siobhan Deshauer: Oh, it's absolutely my pleasure. Thanks for having me Haleema.

Haleema Ahmed: So initially you were pursuing musical studies in undergrad which is definitely very, very interesting. How did that lead you to medicine?

Siobhan Deshauer: Right. Yeah, I can see that sort of, in retrospect it seems like a strange choice, but at the time it reflected what I'd been doing for most of my life. So, I mean, I started playing the violin at the age of five and it was a huge part of my life. And so then going on to do a bachelor of music just seemed like the next step. And being a violinist, it taught me so much about myself in terms of, I guess, performing under pressure, hard work and learning to collaborate and work with others at a really high level. So that has been really beneficial. But it wasn't until the end of my undergraduate degree that I started to consider other careers outside of music. And I don't know, there was something inside of me that made me want to engage more fully with the public rather than feeling separate on stage. And so that's when I really started exploring that idea of medicine.

Haleema Ahmed: That's incredibly interesting. And I like how you kind of compared the difference between medicine being kind of like an interaction between people in the audience versus as a performer. It's definitely a different separation. I know that in undergrad, you actually pursued some research kind of combining music and medicine and I think that's something I would love to hear about some more.

Siobhan Deshauer: Yeah. So in this process where I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was trying to draw from my past to figure out how that could influence what I did in the future and the idea of performance and how to perform under pressure was a big part of that training that I've had so far. So I ended up reaching out to Dr. Carol-Anne Moulton at the Wilson Center in Toronto. It's a time when I was doing undergrad courses in science at UofT (University of Toronto) and I was performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and this was kind of a collision between both worlds. I was seeing how useful the skills from music could be in medicine. So as I said, I reached out to the surgeon who does qualitative research and pitched her an idea involving interviewing surgeons who used to be high-level athletes, military personnel, or musicians, because all three of those areas have people doing peak performance. And I wanted to find out if they had certain routines or mental skills that they brought from their previous life, their previous training to medicine. And it was an incredible opportunity to be able to talk with and interview some of these amazing people.

Haleema Ahmed: That's incredibly fascinating. Do you think that a lot of your musical talent and a lot of the background you've had in musical research as well, actually helps you as a doctor today in the wards interacting with patients?

Siobhan Deshauer: Oh, definitely. From the most basic where I can make small talk with people about classical music as sort of the most basic level to I would say the most important part has been in those moments of extreme stress. I know what that feeling is like, and it feels very similar to when you're on stage. Even if something went wrong, when you're on stage, that feeling of staying calm inside, being able to keep your brain engaged and learning to work with a group of people under those high pressure scenarios. It really in many ways feels similar to when you're playing a chamber concert or orchestra, and everybody on stage feels nervous when maybe someone took a wrong step or a wrong beat. It's very similar in medicine. I think most specifically, when I would be preparing to do a procedure or a new skill, like I remember when I was preparing to do my first central line, I did the same thing I would do before any performance and music. I would visualize the whole procedure. I would practice doing it in my head and before I was going in and gathering my supplies to do it for the first time, putting a needle into someone's neck, right near their juggler, it's extremely terrifying. So I did the same skills where I calmed myself using mental skills. And I can't imagine actually doing all these things without that training. I think it's something we could probably bring into medicine more readily.

Haleema Ahmed: I know that now you produce a lot of videos on YouTube and you've honestly become one of the largest Canadian medical YouTubers' out there. So how did this video creating passion kind of begin?

Siobhan Deshauer: Yeah, that's a great question. So throughout medical school I kept having these moments where I was like, wow, I wish I had known this before medical school or wow my friends outside of medicine would love to know this. And so I became really excited about the medical field and I wanted to share those things. And so I actually thought that writing a blog would be a lot of fun. But when I actually started putting pen to paper or typing things out, it kind of felt like homework. And I felt like I had to perfect a piece of writing before I could put it out there to the public. And so then I just never did it. But a video felt really different. It felt like I was able to just be myself and it didn't have to be perfect. And I think that's because I used to record myself a lot as a violinist, sort of as a tool to analyze my performance. So I used to record myself playing something and then take a bunch of notes. So I wasn't scared of seeing myself on camera, which I think a lot of people feel. But to be honest, my first YouTube video was the first video that I'd ever created. I was actually watching a YouTube video about how to use iMovie right before. So it definitely wasn't making videos that I was so passionate about. Instead, it was being able to tell stories and bring the public into the real medical experience behind the scenes that I was excited about. And never in a million years, did I expect the channel to appeal to so many people and be where it is today. So this was definitely a very exciting process.

Haleema Ahmed: And definitely as a dedicated subscriber to your channel, I don't even know how many years I've been subscribed. I've always been amazed by your ability to explain the experiences that you face and the procedures that you do with patients alongside, like, not obscuring their confidentiality and any of that. So have you found that your content is popular amongst the medical realm and then also the general population too, because I've definitely seen a pattern of that in the YouTube comments. People who may not even have a background in medicine are still super duper interested in what you have to say.

Siobhan Deshauer: Yeah, I completely agree. And I was also surprised to see that there was such a mix of people interested, and I think that's, what's made the community so positive and exciting to be a part of. So yeah, I hear from viewers who are patients and experiencing the healthcare system from the other side and that's been interesting for me to hear their experiences. And then I hear from students who were interested in the medical field from healthcare providers, even in the hospitals that I'm working at, who come up to me and say that they've enjoyed the videos. And I love hearing, you know, bankers, people in finance, lawyers, just all sorts of people from different walks of life who are just interested in seeing behind the scenes.

Haleema Ahmed: One thing that you do with your video, that's very, very cool is you tend to also explain different conditions in different procedures. And I think that's why it might even appeal to so many people because maybe they know a family member who has went through that, or you could share different stories. I think it definitely produces this larger community of people just interested in health, not even like the intricacies of medicine and all of that. I would love to know a little bit more about what internal medicine actually is all about, because I know that that was what your initial residency was for before you decided to pursue rheumatology as a fellow.

Siobhan Deshauer: Right, okay. I get this question a lot and actually before I went into medical school, I don't think I knew what internal medicine was. The simplest thing to say is, think about the TV show, House MD, or Scrubs. I find that people then click onto what it is. But basically internal medicine, it's a medical specialty that treats adults, and there's a huge spectrum of medical conditions. There's a focus on complex medical problems and diagnoses. And once you've made a diagnosis, we treat patients with medications. And I think that's the key, unlike surgeons who largely treat patients by surgical methods. And as you've probably seen, most of my videos feature work inside a hospital, but there are many internists that work in the outpatient setting as well. And then once you've completed your internal medicine training, all the medical specialties come out of that. So for instance, cardiology, respirology, nephrology. So if you went to see a cardiologist, they first did their training to become an internal medicine specialist first and then went on to do their training, to become a cardiologist,

Haleema Ahmed: It is kind of like a STEM cell in a way. A lot of, I guess, residents go in and then I guess specialize into something more specific, and I know that you decided to pursue rheumatology. So what exactly is rheumatology and why were you personally inclined to it?

Siobhan Deshauer: Wow. I love that idea of a STEM cell. That's exactly what it is. And actually, I remember back in medical school, the key question everyone was trying to figure out was are they more interested in medicine or in surgery? That was like the first differentiation and then it goes from there. And yeah, for me, the path from internal medicine led to rheumatology and I, you know–– so many reasons why I think rheumatology is fascinating. You encounter diagnostic challenges. They're really exciting treatment opportunities and you get to have the opportunity to treat and educate and advocate for patients who are suffering with chronic diseases. So during my internal medicine training, I enjoyed all my rotations, but I was always drawn to those mystery cases, especially those autoimmune diseases. And I'll never forget this one time I was in the emergency department and a patient came in with new kidney failure and I was the first person to notice this rash on her foot. And by biopsying the rash, it helped to make this rare diagnosis of an autoimmune disease called GPA. But, that was one of my first moments that was really solidifying that rheumatology is what I wanted to do. It's multi-systems. It involves all of your organs. Your physical exam is still important, so you're always, you know, you're feeling people's joints to help make decisions. You're seeing young patients, old patients, outpatients, people in the intensive care unit, even pregnant patients. And I love that you get to have this long-term follow up as well. I like to build relationships with patients and then see them over time. And that's something you have the advantage of doing in rheumatology. So personally, it just fits with my personality and I love that it's a field that continues to grow with new medication treatment options and a lot of research. So yeah, I mean I'm biased, but I think it's a fantastic specialty.

Haleema Ahmed: I think you have definitely convinced me that it's just, it's one of the top specialties out there. It's kind of like, you're a Sherlock Holmes in a sense. In the hospital, you're looking for clues. It's very interesting. I think on this last note, I wanted to ask you some advice about, I guess, the advice that you would give to somebody who maybe has been stuck on one path for a long time in their life, and finally decides to change things. So for you you know, you're pursuing musical studies for a long time, and then decided to relay into medicine, obviously maintaining a lot of your background in music as well. So what is your advice to somebody who really wants to change up things in their life and kind of deter away from the way that they'd been traditionally doing things?

Siobhan Deshauer: Oh yeah. It's a tough time to make a switch like that. The one piece of advice I would give is listen to your inner voice. Now this is something that my violin mentor told me. At the time I thought he was just talking about, you know, being in touch with your artistic voice, but now I realize it's much deeper than that. I think that we can get caught up doing things that we think we're supposed to do. And while that's sometimes really important, like, you know, finishing a course that you committed to, it can be misleading. It can lead you away from what you're passionate about at times. So my advice would be to listen inwards and follow that inner voice, that gut feeling. So work hard, grow as a person, keep track of what you're passionate about and then really enjoy the journey. It's an exciting one.

Haleema Ahmed: And on that note, thank you so much for joining us today for this SciSection interview. It was super interesting learning about not only your YouTube journey, but a lot of the stuff that you did with the music and now rheumatology. I'm so excited to continue following your channel and seeing whatever else you're up to. So for all those tuning in, please make sure to check out Violin MD on YouTube and you're definitely going to be spending many hours like I did, bingeing her videos when I first discovered them. Thank you so much.

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