Articles and Case Studies

Finding the rhythm in music and medicine

07 Dec 2023

Niranjala Hillyard

by Niranjala Hillyard

Music and Medicine (Dr Ryan Williams supplied)

Music has always been a constant in the life of Dr Ryan Williams. He actively prescribes himself a daily dose of music to benefit from its uplifting and restorative powers.

Ryan started off with an Arts & Education degree and a four-year stint as a German language and science teacher. In his mid-20s, he felt ready to take the leap into medicine. Today, as a general practitioner, and the Artistic Director for the Queensland Medical Orchestra (QMO), one could say Ryan has truly found his niche – bringing together his love for music, passion for medicine, and his desire to alleviate suffering and make the world a better place.

Having ‘resuscitated’ the QMO from hibernation 13 years ago, Ryan still has his hand firm on the baton. And the QMO stands strong, raising vital funds for many charities. It was a pleasure interviewing Ryan who responded very openly to my umpteen questions, with patience.

Q1. When did you first realise you wanted to become a doctor?

Right from my high school days. For me, it was a combination of wanting to help people and an utter fascination with the workings of the human body. Using scientific knowledge to alleviate suffering and make the world better for individuals and communities seemed (and still seems) very meaningful. And at times rockstar-esque!


Q2. What made you choose general practice, and what do you love about it?

I’m a generalist by nature. I learnt to play multiple instruments, rather than just one instrument exceptionally well. I speak German, Russian, French, Indonesian, and can count in a dozen more languages, instead of being a near native speaker in just one language. The thought of only focusing on one organ or area of medicine seemed limiting, just not the right fit for me.


Q3. Has music always played an important role in your life?

Music has been a constant in my life. I started learning the piano with private lessons in grade 3, and at the same time began the viola at school. I started the flute in grade 5, the bassoon in grade 9, percussion in grade 10, and then just played anything I could get my hands on. My school let me run amok with instruments in different ensembles. As a nerdy gay kid in high school, I was bullied mercilessly. So immersing myself in music was my absolute oasis.

Through university and my years as a high-school teacher, music was a fun thing to do on the side. Since becoming a doctor, music has actually become even more important. Cherishing the uplifting and restorative powers of music, especially after a difficult or draining day or week at work, can be almost therapeutic. I try to actively prescribe myself some music at least once a day to maintain good work-life balance and mental health.

Q4. Can you tell us a bit about the QMO?

QMO is an ensemble of doctors, medical students, healthcare professionals and friends who are passionate about music and its importance in living a joyous and happy life. We come together four times a year to perform concerts that raise funds for charity. We’ve raised more than $150K over the last 12 years for various charities.

QMO was founded as the University of Queensland Medical Society Orchestra by Dr Nick Brown in 2004, but it went into hibernation when he moved away for work. I was asked to ‘resuscitate’ it in 2010, and the rest is history. They haven’t taken the baton from me yet!

Q5. Would you recommend the QMO to other doctors?

Yes, I would. Our jobs as doctors can be rewarding; but often draining and stressful, if not outright distressing. Coming together with like-minded healthcare professionals to make wonderful music together in a supportive and lighthearted environment, can be the difference between a weekend that lifts you up and a weekend that you just survive.

It’s great seeing first-year medical students sitting next to senior consultant specialists without any sense of hierarchy, with just music uniting them. It’s a good networking opportunity too. We’ve had residents make connections that helped them find jobs, advice, and even applications for specialist training programs.

Q6. Any tips for your peers on work-life balance?

Learn to say ‘NO’. I’m still working on this one. It’s so much harder than it sounds. Fit in activities that are fun and relaxing, and protect these as fiercely as you would any other appointment in your diary. Use your weekends wisely and plan regular holidays, including long weekends and/or four-day weeks when you can get them.


Q7. Have you travelled much, and what have you learnt from those experiences?

I’ve been VERY fortunate here. I’ve travelled extensively in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. I’ve lived and studied in Germany and Russia. I’ve practised medicine in Germany and in the Democratic of Congo (DRC) where I took part in two medical aid trips teaching medical students and junior doctors.

My biggest lesson from DRC was realising how fantastic our healthcare system in Australia is, when considered on a global scale. Sure, our systems and rules are frustrating, but at least we can provide and access health care. Lots of places in the world have neither, so I try to be mindful of this before I become too critical of ‘how bad’ we have it here in Australia.

Q8. Any words of advice for young doctors interested in pursuing general practice?

Make sure the specialty you choose is the right fit for your values, your passion, the way you want to make a living, and the contribution you want to make to the world.

General practice can deliver all those things, but it isn’t perfect. No specialty is. So talk to GPs to find out what they love about general practice, and see if that’s what you’re looking for. Choose well, and you can have an incredibly rewarding career.

Q9. How important do you think medical indemnity insurance is for junior doctors?

Absolutely! In the first few years as a doctor, questions about ‘am I doing the right thing?’ are so common, and impostor syndrome is prominent. It’s incredibly important to know you’re protected if a disaster strikes; also if you’re worried that a situation could deteriorate, or you just need some advice. It’s good to have that safety net in place.

I’ve had MDA National as my MDO since my first year of medical school in 2008, and I call them a few times every year when I want advice around any situation.


If you’re interested in joining the Queensland Medical Orchestra and Choir, or want to learn more about their work, you can send an email to: or visit their website at:


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