A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Pass the Beat


An infectious diseases doc drums up therapy for himself and others.

During COVID’s many surges, infectious diseases physician Leonard Mermel, DO, ScM, spent long, long days and nights doing everything he could to keep his patients and colleagues safe. For the medical director of the Department of Epidemiology and Infection Control for Lifespan hospitals, it was difficult, heartbreaking, and never-ending work. So whenever he could make a little time for himself, he got out his RAV steel drum and began to play.

“When I was down and out,” the professor of medicine says, “my emotions were just flowing through the instrument. It was therapeutic.”

The Los Angeles native began playing drums at age 8 and performed in rock and jazz bands through middle and high school. Now he’s in a band with hospital colleagues, and he occasionally plays for children at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and makes recordings to share with hospital staff. “It was a great little mental health break,” he says. “Music is soothing. It’s a relief.”

For Mermel, who’s also a photographer, art offers a very different, and satisfying, way to connect with others. “Be it music, photography, painting,” he says, “connecting with people in such a stressful environment is refreshing and uplifting, and I think gives us hope for humanity.”

Mermel keeps instruments at the hospital and at his son’s house in Los Angeles, as well as at home.

Every year around New Year’s, Mermel flies to Los Angeles to meet up with his old musician friends. “We just play music for four or five days, just like the old days,” he says.

Mermel counts many artists among his medical colleagues. “It’s amazing,” he says. “It’s so wonderful to collaborate with people who have those interests. It’s like a whole other dimension.”

In recent years Mermel taught himself to play steel drums: “It was my first time playing percussions with designated notes, and it was a whole new chapter of, wow, creating sound and music.”

In medicine as in music, collaboration is key. “I’m very fortunate to have a close network of friends around the world,” Mermel says, whom he’s worked with throughout the pandemic.


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