Can you be a violinist but still be a doctor?

May 31, 2016 at 05:14 PM · I want to become a doctor when I grow up, but I kinda want to become a violinist. Like be a doctor, but also travel and perform at concert halls with orchestras. Is this possible?

I know I'm still young and my choice might change, but I was curious.

Replies (28)

May 31, 2016 at 05:18 PM · I think so. You'll have to pursue medicine fully, but if you keep practicing, keep taking lessons and keep taking every opportunity to play, you can be a high-level amateur and continue to be a violinist.

May 31, 2016 at 05:27 PM · Depends what you mean by a violinist. You can definitely join an amateur/community orchestra, and perhaps be concert master. But professional soloist? Not a chance. Though if you 'kinda want to become a violinist' and by that you mean in the upper echelon, then 'kinda' is not nearly enough, since you will be competing against people who would give 2 limbs a kidney and most of their liver for the opportunity.

If you go down the violinist path, expect to become a teacher, or perhaps for a while playing IN (not with) an orchestra. If that's not what you want then don't do it. (Edit: actually scrap that since you would be a doctor so teaching won't be necessary - it's 3am here, brain is asleep)

May 31, 2016 at 05:42 PM · You can be a doctor and play the violin. No problem. But you can't be a full time doctor AND a professional violinist.

Google the Doctor's might find it interesting.

Here's one link:

Many doctors play musical instruments to a very high level.

May 31, 2016 at 05:48 PM · I know a Pianist-Doctor, if that helps. He is a Pianist Part time however.

May 31, 2016 at 06:01 PM · I've run across a few MDs who play the violin really really well. One was attending Juilliard (and taking lessons from the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic), while going through med school. But that's far from typical. How many challenges are you willing (and competent) to take on at the same time?

I think this guy could have easily made a career as a "major symphony" player, but that's not the path he ultimately chose.

When I started working in the Weishaar shop, the steep learning curve was about everything I could handle, at that point in my life. While I took a few courses in physics, varnish, and optics at the same time, I still have a tough time imagining working an MD-goal program into the mix.

This is not in any way to say what you can or cannot do, but more to hopefully provide you with information on the odds, to help you in choosing a path which leads you to where you want to be.

May 31, 2016 at 06:12 PM · There is an ophthalmologist in New York Dr. Samuel Wong, who used to be a conductor. He had conducted NYPhil, Royal Phil, etc., and even achieved Music Directorship at Honolulu Symphony and Hong Kong Philharmonic.

May 31, 2016 at 07:53 PM · I am good friends with Dr.Stephanie Brill an ER doctor in North Bay who went to school with my wife and was a fabulous opera singer before deciding on a career change to medicine.Brillliant woman....She also has her grade 8 violin.

May 31, 2016 at 08:22 PM · Yes,I know Terry well.Another 'uber' person.Terry accompanied Steph last year in a recital.

May 31, 2016 at 08:28 PM · I think you have to accept the fact that the few "success stories" you hear about are statistical outliers. Not to take anything away from their accomplishments, but there is an element of dumb luck in that level of success -- even in just becoming one or the other alone.

I know someone who was an excellent violinist but didn't QUITE reach the level she wanted to after perhaps ten years of effort as a full-time pro, and THEN she went to medical school. I also know someone who entered medical school immediately upon finishing his PhD in chemistry. Medicine is more accepting of people who enter the field "later" than violin performance is. So if you are thinking of doing it sequentially, study the violin first.

May 31, 2016 at 08:41 PM · Real question is:

Can you be a doctor and still be a violinist?

May 31, 2016 at 08:42 PM · I think this person might want to know how they can make it work, and probably know that it is unlikely. Those who are outliers had to have done it somehow. I would say consider becoming a doctor who specializes in musicians' injuries. Then you can back up continuing both fields by saying that you need intimate knowledge of your instrument to understand the mechanics of how one might be injured and how to sustain healthy playing habits, and that, of course, you need the medical training to be able to practice. As far is the work load is concerned, you might have to sacrifice some socializing and use all of the tools at your desposal to manage time in the most efficient way possible. Look out for dual-degree programs, and strive for the credentials ( grades, test scores, outside commitments, etc.) which would make you a viable candidate for admission. Also, if you are outside the US, I would consider studying in the US if you can afford it, since American universities tend to be more open to interdisciplinarity ( my personal observation ).

May 31, 2016 at 11:11 PM · I think the answer depends on what level you're at now as a violinist, and how easy you find school. Can you take the most challenging courses and yet breeze through them, leaving you with more time for hobbies? Are you already a very advanced player, who learns quickly and makes efficient use of your practice-time, with a teacher who knows how to make the most of your time and is capable of preparing you to play at a professional level?

If you're going to be a physician, you're not going to be a professional violinist, and consequently what you're really trying to do is to train to a professional level so that you can maximize the opportunities available to you as an amateur. This might include playing with a per-service, part-time local professional orchestra -- the kind of orchestra with a light enough rehearsal schedule that it doesn't conflict with your work schedule. That type of orchestra isn't going to be touring the world, but if you have a taste for travel, the Doctor's Orchestra (made up entirely of physicians) might scratch that itch once a year. You might be able to attend summer music festivals and the like, as well.

Key to this is becoming as good as a player as you can become, prior to going to college, and then playing enough in college and after to maintain your baseline of skill.

May 31, 2016 at 11:30 PM · ok thanks.

June 1, 2016 at 12:12 AM · It seems to me that many of the great violin virtuosos have been recognized before they were even old enough to enter college and start pre-med, let alone medical school 4 years later. I was in town when one such grew up and performed solos with the local community orchestra at ages 6 and 7. She went off for more training out of town, in LA, but returned to perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with us when she was 12, after performing it with the LA Phil (and I saw her in a couple of late-night appearances with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show), and before heading for NYC, Julliard and lessons with Dorothy DeLay. (I had the privilege of being concertmaster of that orchestra for the performance when she was 12, and actually for a total of 20 years. I was not a medical doctor, but a physicist, and I got to do a good bit of traveling for that job.) I now have most of her recordings (Anne Akiko Meyers).

The problem you would face, even at that artistic level would be continually adding to your repertoire at the time you would be studying medicine and later practicing it. 24 hours in a day is all you get, no matter who you are!

The other side of it is that many medical doctors study violin in their younger years and either continue to play (and even study with teachers and coaches) all their lives, or resume playing as they approach retirement and have wonderful lives in retirement as amateur musicians - sometimes even playing solos with orchestras - and lots and lots of chamber music. Playing professionally at that end of life is not impossible either.


June 1, 2016 at 01:04 AM · When Tessa Robins was not leading the Bernard Robinson Music Camp orchestra, the leader was a doctor named Alan Richards.

Another doctor, whom I will not name here, decided to serve in Africa for a while and found herself in the middle of a Civil War. Following that, to help her get over that trauma, she left medicine for a while for a desk in the Halle.

John Shirley-Quirk was neither a violinist nor a doctor, but he was a chemist and a baritone. Wikipedia states that he finished with chemistry when he started performing professionally, but well after he had become virtually a household name as a baritone, his doctor daughter told me he was still practising as a chemist at university level.

June 1, 2016 at 07:07 AM · A fully-qualified doctor, Mary Anderson, was for some time a member of the Hallé Orchestra (FYI that's in the UK). And she went on to own the J.B.Vuillaume violin my ex-wife got in divorce.

BTW Detroit has a "Medical Orchestra".

June 1, 2016 at 09:21 AM · Speaking as an amateur violinist, married to a doctor:

It's certainly possible to play an instrument and be a doctor. Like many others here I know a few people who do it - and skill in a musical instrument is probably good on applications for competitive university course like medicine. Only helpful, though. You still need to rack up an immense number of medicine-related CV points - the sooner you start helping out at disabled kiddies' summer camps, volunteering at clinics, pursuing lifesaving/first-aid qualifications while at school the better - not to mention having an academic record that is pretty much all-As and includes as much chemistry as your school will possibly teach you.

If you can find time to develop as a violinist while doing all of that then you will probably be able to keep it going during the 6-8 years of university study of medicine. However, you will find that music has to take a definite back seat in the first few years of actual medical practice, because you will be working all kinds of strange shift patterns and your neighbours won't take kindly to you practicing when you arrive home at 11pm. And you probably won't be in the mood for scales and Sevick then either.... ;)

June 1, 2016 at 11:32 AM · David, I play Chamber Music in Wales every summer with a Mary Anderson who is a medical doctor from Manchester. Could this be the same person?

June 1, 2016 at 11:59 AM · @Ron MacDonald - "Could this be the same person? ". Almost certainly, yes.

June 1, 2016 at 01:11 PM · I guess you could get a phd in music. You will get to play and be a doctor!

June 1, 2016 at 02:17 PM · That's a good way to do it! :D

June 1, 2016 at 02:22 PM ·

June 1, 2016 at 02:37 PM · Here in Rochester, NY, we have a person who was a child prodigy violin soloist and played solos with several US orchestras in his teen age years. He went to medical school and has been a surgeon here for many years. He has a Guarneri, plays in local orchestras, and I believe takes lessons with a famous violin professor at the Eastman School. He plays very well now, but not 'concert soloist' caliber. This is a real example of the "be a doctor, play in local orchestras" path. The other path "be a concert soloist, do occasional doctoring" is not real. ;-)

So David, go for it, if it is your passion. It can be done.

June 1, 2016 at 03:55 PM · I think that given that those are two incredibly demanding professions, you probably won't be able to do both to your fullest potential. Given the choice of going to a doctor that is also a full-time violinist, and a violinist that is also a full-time doctor, I would prefer to see the latter.

June 1, 2016 at 04:07 PM · I liked Laurie's reply. I agree.

June 1, 2016 at 04:13 PM · While it's possible to be a high level amateur (i.e. non-professional) violinist playing in a local orchestra as a part-time activity, the same is not true of practicing medicine. Likewise, life often unfolds in a way that makes the choice of paths easier when you get to the fork in the road.

You will find that both require a time commitment that often precludes a second parallel "professional" career.

June 1, 2016 at 05:04 PM · Some anecdotes involving medics, from my orchestral experience.

A good amateur violist I know plays in local symphony orchestras, and is also a consultant radiologist. I remember a concert at Bristol's Colston Hall when, in the middle of a symphony, he stopped playing, looked at his pager and quickly left the platform. We found out later that there had been a multiple crash on a motorway near Bristol and his services were urgently required in A&E (that's ER in the US).

On another occasion I was in the cellos for a charity performance of Haydn's Creation at the Clifton RC Cathedral in Bristol. Seated in a line in front of the altar were a number of VIPs, one of whom, an elderly gentleman, got out of his chair and collapsed during one of the big choruses. He was carried off, and my desk partner, a hospital surgeon, put down her cello and went to the vestry to help. She returned a few minutes later, looked at me, shook her head slightly and continued playing. It turned out that the old gentleman had died almost instantly and was beyond recovery, although an announcement was made at the end of the concert that he had been taken home and was "as well as could be expected", which was strictly true I suppose. The performance wasn't affected at all; the conductor was facing the audience across the orchestra, so it all happened behind his back and he was quite unaware of what was going on.

The same lady surgeon/cellist once turned up at a rehearsal at little late, sat down next to me and promptly fell asleep over her cello. She had only just come from a 12-hour stint in theater!

The young leader of one of our better amateur orchestras is not only a hospital doctor but a good enough violinist to give a fine performance of the Barber concerto with us, at St George's Hall in Bristol. Because the younger doctors in hospitals tend to get moved around regularly he is unfortunately no longer with us - I'm not sure whether he's even still in the area.

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