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Music for our leadership ears

April 23, 2013
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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Nelson Mandela. Desmond Tutu. The Lady. Pope Francis. You've probably heard about all of them before I covered them in recent blogs for what they teach us about leadership: patience, forgiveness, humor, self-sacrifice, and spiritual beliefs were prominent.

Though not by design, here's one more leader who unexpectedly came to my attention who we can learn from, but I doubt anyone has heard of him. You should! I stumbled upon him in Cambodia, of all places.

On a recent tour to Southeast Asia, where I found out so much more about The Lady who resides in Burma, we finished our tour in Cambodia. Driving on the main street and passing a surprisingly modern hospital, there was a large sign stating that there was to be a free cello concert of music by Bach and others that evening. Why not skip dinner that night and be comforted by Bach after another hectic day of sightseeing and hearing the native gamelon based music? 

The name of the cellist was not familiar, but so what? Bach in Cambodia seemed too intriguing to pass up.

Beatocello, the sign read. Was that the name of the musician? The concert? Or what?

When we returned, we entered a spacious, very modern Children's Hospital. Literature on it and Beatocello was in the reception area and we took some. My wife and I entered the auditorium, which turned out to also serve as a lecture hall. Soon it became apparent what Beatocello referenced. It is Beat Richner, M.D., the Swiss pediatrician who founded this hospital and who just happens to play the cello.

Certainly, in my career, I have known a lot of musicians who became physicians, partly due to the financial security of the field, but I have also come to conclude due to the healing aspects of music which could be displaced onto the healing aspects of medicine.

This concert was to turn out to depict both the epitome of musicianship and the epitome of clinical and administrative medicine. 

Without saying a word, Dr. Richner (though many of us didn't know who he was at the time) took out his cello and played a Bach cello suite and played it magnificently. He then went on to alternate musical selections with information on this hospital and its other branches in Cambodia.

As it turned out, the combined Kantha Bopha Children's Hospitals, including an HIV-positive maternity ward, is the largest in the world. It also has the best cost/healing ratio in international evaluations. Administrative costs are only 5%, a far cry from our for-profit managed care company costs.

Dr. Richner was asked to start this system in the early 1990s, when Cambodia began to recover from the "Killing Fields" of the Pol Pot regime. He was asked in part because he started his medical career there in the early 1970s, but was forced to leave when Pol Pot came to power. In his early career pursuit of medicine, he developed the alternative character of "Beatocello," an artistic and comedic clown who played the cello and published children's books.

What became clear was what the inspiration of one man could accomplish in a setting of few apparent resources. About 10% is funded from his Swiss government, the rest by donations, from private visitors like us to grants and large donations, mainly from Europe.

The services to the children are of a Wraparound nature, including picking up the children and their parents in the villages. Life-threatening epidemics are common, including a current one of dengue fever.

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...