To bring awareness to the fight against COVID-19, Jamii St. Julien, MD, a surgeon with Bay Surgical Specialists, decided to challenge himself and share his gift of music.
Dr. St. Julien, who is a medical director of the St. Anthony’s Hospital Heartburn and Swallowing Center, was encouraged to record the song Lean On Me, the standard by the late Bill Withers. Dr. St. Julien added a few lyrics about coronavirus to make it more relevant.
“I just saw what was going on around the country, how nurses and medical personnel were in this fight and how it disproportionately affects African-Americans, and I just wanted to do something,” he said. “So when I was approached about making this video to help in the fight against COVID-19, I was all for it. I was very nervous but I decided to record it because the song means so much.”
When he was a youngster in New Orleans, Dr. St. Julien liked to sing – but to himself. “I knew I could sing but I was always so nervous,” he said. As one of four boys in his family, he was the only one who caught the musical bug. “I was in chorus and my director always chose me to do solos. But I grew up with really bad allergies so my voice was inconsistent. I couldn’t always hit the notes I wanted to.”
Fast forward to 2002 when he went to Baltimore, MD, to attend Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “Suddenly, the allergies were gone,” Dr. St. Julien said. “My classmates would hear me humming or singing to myself in anatomy lab and they told me I should get into the school’s Talent Showcase.”
The showcase was an opportunity for the students to share their talents outside of medicine. He sang a duet with another student and blew the audience away. “But I had to get over my nervousness,” he said. In addition to graduating with a doctor of medicine degree from Johns Hopkins, Dr. St. Julien also had his residency in general surgery at Vanderbilt University and did fellowships at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.
Although he grew up playing piano and violin, he found himself wanting to learn to play something new while he was in medical school. “I bought my first guitar in 2002 when I was a senior in college,” Dr. St. Julien said. “I’ve probably really been playing about 15 years. I’ve taken lessons here and there and I still take lessons to keep getting better. I also teach myself from the Internet and just playing by ear.”
He says he has been influenced by many artists including Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and John Mayer. “There are a lot of good soulful artists out there and I find it hard to separate the guitarists from the singer/guitarists. Deangelo, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Miguel, Allen Stone – they’re all great artists.”
Even though he is a surgeon, Dr. St. Julien has let himself dream about being a musician. “By the time I really started to consider it, I was on my way to becoming a surgeon,” he said. “It involves an investment in time just like being a doctor, and I really had to decide if I wanted to be a struggling musician or continue on the road to be a top-level surgeon. It was a no-brainer for me.”
He stayed on the road to medicine. But he enjoys challenging himself to play different types of music and to keep learning. He even occasionally performs at open mic nights. In fact, Dr. St. Julien says that he’s probably playing his guitar more now than ever because of the stay-at-home orders. “When I leave the office, I go home, grab a bite to eat and sit on my couch or balcony and play my guitar. It’s very soothing. You can’t hang out on your couch playing the violin so guitar is next best thing.”
And he’s also glad that he was able to lend his voice to this project. “We all need to come together in this fight,” he said. Although he was nervious, Jamii St. Julien, MD,decided to record the song to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.