Feature Story

Music as medicine

Michael MacMillan (’13) launches his medical career while staying connected to music
By: Kayla Blanchard (’21), Layton Fisher Intern in Philanthropy

Michael MacMillan is showing his fellow Mounties that success can be found no matter what path you take.

Upon receiving his acceptance to Mount Allison, MacMillan began toying between two career paths, one following his passion for music and the other following a career in medicine. After taking some time to look into it, he discovered he could have the best of both worlds, and he proceeded to pursue a Bachelor of Music, specializing in piano. Throughout his degree, MacMillan made sure to choose his electives wisely, deciding to take science courses in case he chose to pursue medicine further down the line.

During MacMillan’s final year, he began to experience increasing shoulder pain, which required him to adapt his practices as a pianist. Nevertheless, he persisted and chose to continue with his education in the field, obtaining a Master of Music at l’Université de Montréal. In order to adapt, MacMillan participated in physiotherapy and primarily focused on pieces of music that can be played with solely the left hand, a significantly challenging change in his usual two-handed norm. In taking his master's, MacMillan considered continuing on this path even further, almost pursuing a PhD to become a professor of the performing arts, much like his Mount Allison professor, Dr. Stephen Runge.

But with his shoulder pain increasing, MacMillan decided to switch paths, taking the MCAT and applying to Dalhousie Medical School. He graduated in 2020, receiving the CB Stewart Gold Medal in Medicine for the highest academic standing in his class. He is currently in a five-year residency in radiology at the University of Manitoba.

Under the guidance of Dr. Runge, MacMillan was very successful in his undergraduate degree, partaking in competitions on top of his music requirements such as concerts, recitals, accompaniments, and an intense practice schedule. He was able to balance his academics with various leadership activities such as the SMILE program and working as a residence assistant in Windsor Hall. MacMillan feels his time at Mount Allison has had a lasting effect on his career path, stating that the discipline he learned from pursuing music has carried over into his work ethic for medical school.

“If I wanted to send any message to future music students considering medicine, I would say that by doing a music program, you become very good at organizing yourself and your studies. In music, you practice every day because you can’t put the work off. This is a skill that has really helped me with my degree in medicine,” says MacMillan.

Further, he explains that music and medicine are more intertwined than some may believe. During his clinical practices, he had seen non-verbal patients become more willing to communicate when he shared music with them.

MacMillan is still passionate about music today and continues to play piano with his friends and loved ones in his spare time. No matter where his life takes him, music will always be there every step of the way.