Medical student discovers a voice in medicine and song
Feb. 20, 2014
You might say that Maria Solis, a third-year medical student at the IU School of Medicine, has always been guided by an "inner voice."
A singer whose natural talents went undiscovered for years, Solis never considered her voice anything special until she discovered it could inspire strong emotions in the elderly nursing home resident she served as a certified nursing assistant -- feelings of gratitude so powerful they played a part in her decision to pursue a new career as a physician.
"Being a CNA was one of the primary reasons I decided to pursue medicine in the first place," Solis said. "The residents helped me feel as though I was doing something important; the relationships I established at the nursing home were great, and I'm looking forward to creating similar relationships with my future patients."
Solis said the first time she realized the true power of her voice was when she sang to an older woman with Alzheimer’s disease. Although the woman was normally emotionally distraught, Solis said she grew calmer when she sang, an action that forged a bond with the patient shared by few other caregivers at the facility.
In another instance she won’t soon forget, Solis sang to a man who had become quadriplegic after a severe motorcycle accident. As her voice filled the room, she said the man repeatedly pointed to a sign that said “Thank you,” created as part of the system designed for him to communicate.
Beyond helping inspire a career in medicine, Solis’ voice has also helped smooth the path to medical school through building self-confidence, as well as generating some modest income as she took a break from her job to pursue a degree.
Both outcomes sprang from two albums recorded in high school and college after she began to grow as a singer, primarily in her church choir. Her first album, “Grace,” based on favorites from her church hymnal, was recorded over a summer in the basement studio of a family friend who has a passion for audio recording. A second album, “Christmas Joy,” a compilation of Christmas songs, took two summers to record at the same studio.
The work involved in creating these albums was "life changing," said Solis, who said she couldn’t be more thankful to the people who donated their time to the project.
"The experiences I gained from recording the CDs were priceless," Solis said, calling the process of making music more valuable than any profits from the albums. “It made me more appreciative and grateful for what I’ve got, and in that alone they were worth it. Creating the CDs really brought out not only the best in me but the best in the individuals who donated their time and effort to help make them a success."
A graduate of Our Lady of Providence Junior-Senior High School in Clarksville, Ind., where she earned the title of salutatorian, Solis was first noticed for her voice in seventh grade. She was taking a sewing class outside of school, and the teacher’s husband noticed her innate ability to sing on key.
“He heard me sing while pecking out a few notes on their baby grand during a break," she said. "I never did learn how to sew!"
He encouraged Solis' mother to invest in voice lessons, after which she soon became a star in her church choir. Later, Solis used proceeds from her albums to fund her undergraduate education at Marian University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in Spanish and pastoral leadership.
Now at IU, Solis performs regularly with the IU School of Medicine Orchestra. Conductor and overseer David Schurger invited her to join the group after hearing her perform at the 2012 IUSM Evening of the Arts, a fundraiser for Indianapolis free clinics that showcases the talents of students, faculty and staff. Solis said that singing with the orchestra has provided the opportunity to tackle difficult works beyond pop hits and church hymns, such as opera, as well as to perform alongside musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, including during a Christmas concert for patients and families at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
The recipient of the Indiana Primary Care Scholarship -- in which medical school graduates practice primary care medicine in a medically underserved or health professions shortage area for four years in return for full tuition reimbursement -- Solis said her ultimate professional goal is to continue work in these areas, specifically focusing on underserved Hispanic populations.
Solis also said that she isn’t planning to record a new album any time soon -- although she’s not opposed to the idea. For the time being, however, she aims to express her voice through cantoring at Mass, performing with the IUSM Orchestra and singing at weddings.
"Through music, I’ve been able to establish lasting relationships with patients, and I hope I can continue to build new relationships with patients through music," she said. "Music is truly healing, and I strongly feel that the personal moments my music has brought to my patients has improved their quality of life, maybe more strongly than could medicine alone.”