This Yale professor doesn’t just teach microbiology, he wrote songs about it

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Sheldon Campbell is Professor of Laboratory Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and Director of Clinical Laboratories at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

He is also a songwriter.

“I write songs about microbes that I use for educational purposes,” he said.

Campbell’s songs are whimsical, humorous and scientific. He writes songs about microbiology and disease, as well as historical events.

“I specifically have a set of songs about microbiology and various aspects that I use to teach medical students and sing at national meetings and various things,” he said.

Take, for example, the following words:

“Let’s stop by this guy whose fever is a flame for his white blood cells, I’m afraid they are no more. And the Aspergillus growing in his lungs makes him exclaim, “Oh, the fungi aren’t coming back. It’s the song of the immunocompromised. Mushrooms, mushrooms, come back, no more. Too many antibiotics and other drugs I’ve seen. Oh, the mushrooms don’t come back.

Or this contemplative piece, written for Lab Week 2020:

“It’s not just a number, it’s not just a job, it’s not just a specimen, it’s not just a swab. That’s life; it’s a person and here in the lab, the tubes, the blades, the blood redder than wine, everyone is a patient, and everyone is mine.

Campbell is particularly fond of traditional folk music and has stated that many of her songs are based on sea shanties.

“Most of the stuff I do actually uses traditional song structures,” he said. “I have a few things based on the songs of the sea, because I really like the songs of the sea.”

Campbell is not a professional musician, and although he takes lessons, he only started playing relatively recently, in 2005.

“I first picked up a string instrument with the intention of getting into music when I was 39, and started writing songs a few years later,” he said. he declares.

When asked if his strategy worked, if his songs served as an effective mnemonic device for his students, Campbell gave a scientist’s answer.

“It’s hard to study,” he says. “I haven’t done controlled trials, but they sing, and they contact me a few years later and say, ‘You know, when I was seeing patients, I remembered the chorus of this song.'”

Campbell describes himself as an introvert and told a joke to illustrate the point: “Do you know how to say you’re talking to an extroverted pathologist? She looks at your shoes. So how does he perform his own songs in front of hundreds of his colleagues?

“Many introverts are performers. Introverts get energy by being alone and can then spend it by being with people. Extroverts get energy by being with people and then spend it by being alone” , he said, “I love playing, it’s fun, I like it. And when it’s over, I’m completely exhausted.”

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