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

The Show Must Go On


When illness strikes, this doctor is waiting in the wings.

You’re a top musician in one of the world’s best symphony orchestras, performing thousands of miles from home, and you’ve got a nagging cough. Who you gonna call?

“If it’s a loud part of the piece they can get away with it, but if the soloist is performing or it’s a quiet piece they don’t want to start coughing,” says Robert Partridge, MD, MPH, an adjunct associate professor of emergency medicine. “That was something I didn’t even think about before this job.”

“This job” is tour physician for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a gig that takes Partridge abroad for about two weeks a year to attend to the colds, GI complaints, bleeding calluses, injuries, and myriad other maladies of the traveling musicians, as well as staff, stage crew, and friends and family—up to 200 jetlagged people moving from city to city in planes, buses, and trains. “It’s not unusual for illnesses to spread through the group because we’re traveling together in confined spaces,” he says. “In a lot of ways I feel like a small-town doctor.”

Partridge, who most of the year works in the emergency departments of Rhode Island Hospital and Emerson Hospital, in Concord, MA, joined the BSO in 2013 and has toured with them in Europe, China, and Japan. He travels with a huge trunk—“my rolling emergency room”—that only the stagehands are able to move and is packed with orthopedic supplies, bandages, an AED, and more than 100 medications. At performance venues he sets up shop in an office backstage, and at intermission heads back there from his seat in the audience to treat headaches, cuts, and yes, coughs that arise during the show.

Working as an emergency physician has surprising parallels to his part-time role. “The motto of the emergency department is ‘anyone, anything, anytime.’ “That fits well for this kind of position,” Partridge says.

A longtime lover of classical music and travel, the job is a dream for Partridge. “It’s a blend of all the things I love: music plus medicine plus travel,” he says. “It’s a wonderful group. I’m in awe of what they can do.” No doubt they’re impressed by his talents, too.

Read more about Partridge and the BSO’s latest tour to Japan here.


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