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A little mood music

Joohee Han lifts the spirits of patients and visitors as a Fairview Hospital volunteer.

A first-year medical student at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Joohee Han (Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, and Physiology ’12) already has an impressive research résumé. In 2011, she became the youngest person to receive the American Pancreatic Association’s Young Investigator Award. Her research has been published in two peer-reviewed journals. And last year, she took first place for the Best Basic Science Poster Presentation from the University’s Department of Surgery where she worked in Dr. Masato Yamamoto and Dr. Julia Davydovas’ lab as an undergraduate. When she’s not winning research awards or immersed in her medical studies, she’s sharing her talent as a volunteer at Fairview where she plays piano for visitors and patients.

Q. You play piano for patients and visitors as a volunteer at Fairview Hospital. How did that come about?

A. I started volunteering at Fairview before college. I was certain that I wanted to attend CBS so I applied to volunteer in the summer of 2008. My volunteer service started out in the surgery lounge taking calls and assisting patients’ families. After a year, wanting more patient interaction, I started visiting patients and giving hand massages. But I wanted to do more for the patients. One day, I noticed the piano and I started playing for them.

Q. How do people react to it?

A. People walk by or sit down, some people smile, hum, clap and even say “thank you.” I try to pick pieces that are calming and a little bit hopeful and optimistic; something maybe a little familiar to their ears. I love playing Chopin op. 9 No. 2. If it gives people a little bit of comfort or peace, I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Q. As a first-year medical student you have lots to keep you busy. What motivates you to make time for this?

A. I came to the United States from Korea when I was 10. When I got here I did not speak English at all. My only language was music and mat. It was all volunteers, teachers and friends who helped me become proficient. That's why community service is important to me.

Q. What’s the best thing about medical school so far?

A. Medical school education is fantastic! My first semester involved a lot of review of biochemistry and genetics. When we started learning about physical exams – how to take vitals, get the history of illness, understand patients on a personal level – that was pretty amazing because I got to put my knowledge into action. I also loved anatomy. Surgeons came in to teach us how to do procedures. Hands-on learning is the best way I learn, so it was fabulous.

– Stephanie Xenos