Orchestrating Comprehensive Care for the Performing Artist
While a hoarse voice, a sinus infection, a sore joint, or a bout with asthma may not signal a major concern for most individuals, for professional singers, musicians, actors, and other performing artists, these symptoms could be the harbinger of a career in jeopardy.
The Center for the Performing Artist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center offers specialized expertise in performing arts medicine tailored to the needs of professional and aspiring artists. Led by the Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, the Center provides multispecialty care, including disorders of the ear, nose, and throat, musculoskeletal injuries, neurological conditions and movement disorders, pulmonary conditions, and mental health issues.
“So many times performing artists will come to us with an acute problem, which we address, but they are also able to benefit from the full range of practitioners the Center has available to manage all of their healthcare needs,” says Michael G. Stewart, MD, MPH, Chief of the Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at Weill Cornell and Director of the Center for the Performing Artist. “One thing that often occurs with artists is that their care is fragmented. They get good individual care, but each physician doesn’t know what the other has done. There is no continuity. Our Center provides not only expertise for specific problems related to performing artists, but also coordinated communication among physicians and health practitioners they may need to see.”
“Artists come to us at different stages in their careers and from a great variety of backgrounds,” says Nancy Amigron, Program Manager of the Center. “Each performer is dependent upon physical and mental health to practice a demanding craft. We help to simplify the entire process by directing them to the right physician for assessment and treatment.”
“Importantly,” Dr. Stewart emphasizes, “more than putting out fires and taking care of emergencies, Nancy facilitates incorporating these performing artists into our healthcare system. She is not just making matches with specialists. She facilitates the total care of the artist in need.”
The Center for the Performing Artist, created nearly a decade ago, has affiliations and contractual arrangements with a number of New York City’s most renowned cultural and performing arts institutions, including The Metropolitan Opera, the Manhattan School of Music, Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and Marymount Manhattan College, which is home to a large theatre and performing arts group, and also provides preventive and ongoing care for cast members of Broadway productions.
“The Met is a large and complex organization with more than 3,000 full-time, seasonal, and part-time staff, not to mention visiting artists from across the globe who come through the opera house over the course of a given season,” says Ann Marie Hackett, Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations at The Metropolitan Opera. “Many of our artists have relocated to New York and may not have healthcare providers here. We have been using the Center for the Performing Artist for a few years, and they have exceeded our expectations. We have sent patients for routine healthcare visits, and specialty referrals for complicated problems and other issues. We have even referred the star of a production for an acute problem just a few hours before an evening curtain — and the problem was solved and the show went on as scheduled! We have been very impressed with the responsiveness, breadth of expertise, and integration of care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.”
In September 2013, the Sean Parker Institute for the Voice made its debut at Weill Cornell under the umbrella of the Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery and functions as a close partner of the Center for the Performing Artist. “The Parker Institute represents an approach to the voice in which excellent clinical care is married to research and innovation,” says Lucian Sulica, MD, Director of the Institute, whose clinical expertise includes care of the performing voice. “During voicing, vocal cords are subject to repetitive stress. This cumulative injury can lead to very subtle abnormalities of performers’ vocal folds that impact voice performance. Artists often have an inclination to blame themselves and question their technique instead of seeking a medical evaluation. It can be very satisfying identifying an underlying anatomic problem, often solvable, for someone who has been second-guessing themselves on technique for weeks.”
Understanding the physiological problems they are having with their voice and receiving accurate information is tremendously empowering for any patient, but especially performers, notes Dr. Sulica. “It’s very steadying for them,” he says. “They’re excellent to work with because they have much more self-awareness of their voice than most people, as well as very high standards. They are the patients who really push us to do our best.”
As Medical Director of Health Services for The Juilliard School, Howard E. Rosenberg, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, has a bird’s-eye view of the healthcare concerns of dancers, actors, and musicians well on their way to professional careers. “Juilliard Health Services has been collaborating with the Center for the Performing Artist for five years,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “The Center has been an invaluable resource for our students. The level of expertise and accessibility of the Center’s consultants are unparalleled. Moreover, their appreciation of the often unique needs of performing artists enhances the superior care provided to our students.”
Monica Coen Christensen, EdD, Dean of Students of the Manhattan School of Music, concurs. “As a high-profile conservatory with almost 1,000 student musicians, we recognize that the well-being of our students is at the very heart of our enterprise,” says Dr. Christensen. “In a very short period of time, we have come to rely heavily on the resource that is the Center for the Performing Artist. When we send our students to Weill Cornell, we know they will have their health needs met, but we also know that they will be treated with respect. Because Manhattan School of Music students come from 55 countries, many of our students are very far from home. The sense that they have been truly taken care of — in addition to being medically treated — is just so important. For all these reasons, the Center for the Performing Artist has become very valuable to us.”