Many surgeons are as captivated by the chord progression and harmonic bal- ance of a symphony orchestra as they
are by the challenges in the operating room
(OR). The surgeons featured in this article
demonstrate their surgical acumen in the OR,
and away from the OR they reveal their unique
talents as classical musicians. These classical
musicians and surgeons recognize the value of
Blending two passions
Peter F. Crookes, MD, FACS, proudly notes that
he can hold his own as a classical violinist in a
string quartet—and in an OR. Originally from
Belfast, Ireland, Dr. Crookes has continued to
improve his violin playing as he has pursued a
practice in upper gastrointestinal and bariatric
surgery. He is a professor and director of the
medical student surgical clerkship at the University of Southern California (USC) department of
surgery, Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles.
“I grew up in an impoverished working class
family in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, and my
parents had no money for formal education.
Still, my four siblings and I all learned to play
the violin,” he said.
Dr. Crookes started playing at age 11, and
music was the love of his early life. “As a kid,
that’s what I did—I listened to classical music
endlessly on our record player. I was totally
immersed in music. Now, if I’d had more mon-
ey, if I had come from a middle-class professional
family, I would have wanted to go to a conser-
vatory. That’s probably what I would have done
with my life, but my parents could not afford to
finance that kind of education.”
In the 1970s, as Dr. Crookes yearned for a
musical career, the British government was fund-
ing free medical education to qualified students.
On a full scholarship, Dr. Crookes was able to
“Scrubs trio” (from left): Violinist Brian Sung, MD, then a chief resident
at USC and now at Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, WA; Stephen P.
Lee, MD, who performs laparoscopic surgery; and Dr. Crookes.