Doctors, nurses and other health care workers connected with the Nebraska medical school in Omaha may have found that making music with their orchestra may be the best medicine for easing their stress and meeting work challenges.

The Nebraska Medical Orchestra was formed last year and rehearses for a couple of hours each week under the direction of Matthew Brooks, the director of orchestras at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The 55-member ensemble already has given concerts, performing works by such composers as Mozart and Bach.

“They’ve come a long way with a challenging repertoire,” Brooks said of his relatively new group. “Folks in health professions are high achievers.”

Stress is high among medical professionals, said Dr. Steven Wengel, a psychiatrist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who also is assistant vice chancellor of campus wellness for both Omaha campuses. Their work is “very, very fulfilling but also very challenging,” Wengel said.

“What can we do to refresh their souls, recharge their batteries?” he said he asked himself when he began to think about reducing their psychic load.

A colleague came to him last year with an idea. Dr. Matt Rizzo, who leads the neurological services department at the medical school, had been in a medical orchestra while he was a faculty member at the University of Iowa.

“He urged me to get an orchestra going here,” Wengel told the Omaha World-Herald , noting that a study shows that medical students exposed to the humanities have much lower burnout rates and score higher on measures of empathy and wisdom, he said.

A cancer researcher at the medical school, Dr. Sarah Holstein, a flutist, said she gets a lot out of the orchestra.

“I love playing music. It uses a different part of my brain than the part that’s constantly worrying about work-related things or patients,” Holstein said. “That goes away, and I can focus on the music and the joy of playing with others.”

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