Apr 12, 2022

These Toronto Docs Have Got Talent

Alumni, Faculty & Staff
A choir of female physicians, many of whom are affiliated with the Temerty Faculty of Medicine sang on Canada's Got Talent.
Jag Gundu/Rogers Sports & Media
A choir of female physicians called Voices Rock Medicine, many of whom are affiliated with the Temerty Faculty of Medicine sang on Canada's Got Talent.
By Erin Howe

As physicians, Chetana KulkarniSarah Kim and Susan Thouin are used to performing under pressure. But they had never felt an adrenaline rush like they experienced when they sang Fight Song on stage during their Canada’s Got Talent audition. The episode aired last week. 

The three women belong to a choir of female physicians called Voices Rock Medicine, many of whom are affiliated with the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine. 

“I knew Fight Song before the pandemic and it had become my anthem,” says Kulkarni, an assistant professor of psychiatry at U of T and child and adolescent psychiatrist at The Hospital for Sick Children. “But leading up to Canada’s Got Talent we only had a few gatherings to practice, outside at a distance and often in the dark. It was so powerful to be together to sing it.”  

Judges Howie Mandel, Lilly Singh, Trish Stratus and Kardinal Offishall each gave the choir a ‘yes’ — which means the group will be one of the 18 acts under consideration to move forward in the competition. 

“We just sang our hearts out,” says Kim, a family and community medicine lecturer and artist-in-residence in the health arts and humanities program at U of T. “We love to sing, and we want others to experience the joy, healing and growth that we have as part of this group.” 

All three physicians say Voices Rock Medicine has offered a way to find a voice they never knew they had. 

“Singing is such a vulnerable act, but it’s easier in a group because our voices blend. And as we become more compassionate towards ourselves, our ability to receive others with compassion grows,” says Kim, who is also a staff physician at St. Joseph’s Health Centre focused on sports and exercise medicine and mindful psychotherapy. 

Voices Rock Medicine came to be in 2019, after Thouin saw how much her daughter and husband enjoyed being part of other Voices Rock choirs. 

Juggling work and other responsibilities made it challenging to join her husband’s choir, says Thouin, a family and community medicine lecturer at U of T and palliative care physician. 

But after a series of casual chats with her colleagues about the pressures they face, Thouin was motivated to help them all combat stress and burnout.  

She pitched her idea for a group of woman physicians to the director of Voices Rock Canada, an organization that offers choir programs for kids, adults and seniors.   

She invited other doctors to join the new choir, but it took time to help people feel comfortable enough to take part.  

“So many people said to me, ‘I can’t sing,’” recalls Thouin. “But, as our director says, he can teach anyone to sing; if you can speak, you can learn to sing.” 

Members don’t have to audition to join. Thouin notes many participants learned how to read sheet music after they joined the group. 

The ensemble began as a pilot with about 30 singers. Members gathered in person until the pandemic hit, then moved their practices online. An additional 40 doctors are part of a second, strictly virtual group.  

Today the choir is 60 voices strong and includes doctors in specialties ranging from family medicine to anesthesiology to surgery.  

Despite some early recognition — a video of their virtual performance of the song Rise Again, posted in April of 2020, attracted more than one million views — none of the singers ever expected their music to reach such a massive audience, Thouin says. 

All three physicians say music boosted their emotional wellbeing, and that the impact reverberates through their work.  

A fellow member of the choir found herself singing softly as she did medical rounds recently, lifting her own spirits but also brightening the mood of her patients, says Thouin. 

“I’ve also spoken with the medical students I mentor about the choir, and how important it is to have an outlet to relieve the stress of medicine and life,” Thouin says. “Whether that’s singing or some other activity that gives you a reprieve, it’s so beneficial for preventing burnout.” 

The journey of Voices Rock Medicine on Canada’s Got Talent will continue to unfold on television over the next several weeks.  

The group will also perform at a concert at the Jane Mallet Theatre on May 29th.