Some comic relief for the class of 2013

Two medical graduates show that laughter is the best medicine ... and a great teacher

Amy Hewko - 1 June 2013

When most people think about medical school, the last thing that comes to mind is standup comedy. Luckily for the class of 2013, Max Levine and Nick Avdimiretz are not most people.

The duo have earned medical school fame through their creative parodies of medical theory and clinical practice. They united for their first Med Night, an annual comedy event for medical students in all four years of the program, and continued the partnership through the next two shows.

Avdimiretz says his passion for the humanities, specifically drama and music, was first cultivated when he was in high school. He feared medical school would take away his ability to indulge in what had become important aspects of his life. Instead, he helped found Acting like Doctors, an elective with the Arts & Humanities in Health & Medicine program, and he began working with Max.

"Medicine is no longer a left-brain field. The best mentors I've seen are the ones who are not only great with academia but also with interpersonal skills and creativity. I think that's what makes a good doctor a great doctor," he said.

Levine, on the other hand, was less inclined towards the stage prior to their union. "The last time I got on stage to perform was in junior high," he admitted, saying he's more likely to find reprieve from his studies in the gym than in music. Though he appreciates art more than he participates in it, he says he has always joked with his curriculum as a way to take ownership and relate on a level that isn't purely academic.

As a self-described introvert, Levine's not the first person you would envision belting out parodies. Which is why Avdimiretz was so surprised when he came up with the idea to parody George Michael's Faith for Med Night. The final product, I Love My Steth, was a huge hit among classmates.

"I'm usually in the background. I'm there, I'll participate in things, but I'm usually not up in front of people. I had the idea for Med Night that first year. I thought it would be kind of fun," Levine said of the uncharacteristic move.

Time only perfected their art. For their second Med Night show, they co-wrote I Will Survive (Med School). The demands of third year left them unable to connect for Med Night 2012, so they produced the video Max and Nick's Greatest Hits for their classmates to enjoy in their absence.

Levine and Avdimiretz build their lyrics from stressful situations encountered during their rotations. While the writing process varied from song to song, they did agree that it was a great way to experience medicine from a different point of view.

"I think a lot of people appreciated the fact that that we were shedding light on these very serious topics," Avdimiretz said of their song choices. "A lot of people in medicine appreciated that, and a lot of people outside of medicine really loved that we were poking fun at our own careers."

"It's a good mental health practice to be able to laugh and not take yourself so seriously," Levine added. "At our stage of training, people aren't getting sick and dying in front of us. Just getting all this information and seeing all this stuff in the hospital for the first time is, in itself, overwhelming sometimes. Being able to joke about it, sing about it and just make light of it helps you realize it's okay and that we're all doing it together."

On June 7, Avdimiretz and Levine will both accept their medical degrees in the centennial year convocation, bringing their future careers a little closer. Both will be doing residencies at the U of A, Avdimiretz in pediatrics and Levine in urology. With busy schedules ahead, they haven't considered the future of their parodies.

"Nick loves to sing spontaneously so I wouldn't be surprised if we came up with another song or two," Levine said.

"I'll probably want to sing about pediatrics and Max will probably want to sing about urology," Avdimiretz noted. "Not only were we cultivating our creative sides, we were also making people laugh. And, as they say, laughter is the best medicine."