Physician By Day, Musician By Night

Doctor Balances Two Careers That Are Worlds Apart

July 11, 2009, 8:04 PM

July 26, 2009— -- Rupa Marya grew up seriously thinking she would become a doctor. She also wanted to be a singer, it was what her parents – immigrants from India wanted for her as well. Her heart was also in music so she felt pressure to choose between medicine or music.

Known in the music world as just Rupa, she has a quite a voice, a distinctive, powerful sound and a growing following. She and her band, The April Fishes, sell out clubs in Chicago and San Francisco, where she lives, and has performed in France, Germany, Austria and Belgium. A BBC reviewer called her music "surprising" and "delightful."

What her audiences don't know is that she also chose medicine. The 34 year-old is also a doctor, an internist at San Francisco General Hospital. She studied medicine at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., but she couldn't quite give up her dream to be a musician. She kept quiet about her split ambitions though, keeping her musical aspirations separate from her medical life.

"I didn't ever tell the musician community that I was going to be a doctor," Rupa says.

Rupa couldn't see how they would work together and thought at first pursuing both professions would damage her reputation and her chances of being taken seriously by her medical, and her musical colleagues.

But by the time she began her residency, she became convinced that she belonged in both camps. She took a gamble and told an med school advisor about her twin passions.

"I walked into my program director's office in the middle of the internship," Rupa said," I just said... I'll be a better artist if I'm a doctor and a better doctor if I'm an artist and I need to find a way to do this."

She says he told her to go for it and try to make it work.

And she has found a way to do both. She now spends six months at San Francisco General Hospital where she sees patients from all walks of life. She says her patients inspire her songwriting.

"Walking so close to mortality and their lives is total fuel for writing," Rupa said. "Other times it's just the force of being around patients who inspire me."

Many of Rupa's patients are immigrants and with her varied background, she was born in India and spent part of her childhood in France, she is able to empathize with some of their problems. One of her songs is about the walls that separate people from people, like the physical one being built on the U.S. border with Mexico.

When Rupa is not at the hospital she is on tour – all over the world. She sings in French and English and her music is influenced by Indian rhythms, making Rupa & The April Fishes a truly international band.

Rupa has kept quiet about her profession and musical life, much in the same way she kept quiet about it while she was in medical school. She keeps her music a secret from her patients, still afraid they won't understand.

"I'm pretty serious at work, I don't look like I'm going to jump around and start singing," Rupa said.

Despite her split lives, she believes it's working, her artist side fits with the side of her that's a doctor.

By choosing to pursue both her passion for music and her passion for medicine, Rupa has fulfilled both her dreams.

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