Founder of MusicMDs, Esha Bansal ’15 Links Passion for Music and Public Health

Since she was seven years old, Esha Bansal ’15 and her brother played the violin every day for their grandmother, who was diagnosed with cancer. Although they had just begun to learn, they discovered that even the simplest music could make their grandmother’s day. This realization inspired Bansal and her older brother, now a sophomore in college, to continue playing the violin.

Bansal and her brother are the founders of MusicMDs. According to their website, “MusicMDs is a music-therapy-inspired outreach organization of high-school and college musicians who volunteer their music to promote patient healing in hospitals.” Founded in 2009, the organization now operates in Massachusetts, Texas and Florida, Bansal’s home state. Eight Andover students are involved in the program.

“We researched a connection between music and health, and we learned about music therapy, and that led us to start trying to provide the service to people in hospitals throughout our community because it’s a very fast-tracking field, and it has a lot of clinical benefits, but it hasn’t been widely implemented,” said Bansal in an interview with The Phillipian.

Bansal and her brother first began performing in nursing homes, where they devised a model for their visits. They realized that music was the icebreaker, because it made people feel relaxed and willing to open up to them. After developing this model, they brought their proposal to their local hospital.

“We presented [the proposal] to some members of the management there, and we started it on a trial basis with me and my brother. It was well-received, so we started to recruit other students. We developed a protocol so it would be easier to train [students], and then as the organization came to grow, there became policies, a system for scheduling attendance and all those things,” said Bansal.

MusicMDs is not the only manifestation of Bansal’s interest in public health. Bansal said that during Winter Term, she did an Independent Project about the “latino health paradox” and “health inequities that face the Spanish-speaking, bilingual and bicultural population,” using the city of Lawrence as a case study.

Bansal first discovered the issue of the “latino health paradox” during a Spanish immersion course in Lawrence taught by Mark Cutler, Instructor in Spanish. At the time, she had already established the MusicMDs program at the Lawrence General Hospital and was actively performing. In putting the two experiences together, she realized the prevalence of communication challenges in the community.

“The immersion class was more focused on Lawrence High School and students and telling people’s stories about the immigrant experience, and that really clicked with me when I saw patients in the hospital who had similar stories but were dealing with the emotional, psychological and physical issues of hospitalization. I think it was those kids that we worked with at Lawrence High Schools, the teachers and the interviewees in that project that I saw reflected in the patients, and I realized that these people needed their stories told as well,” said Bansal.

The “latino paradox,” Bansal explained, is the gradual decrease in the overall health of a Hispanic community over multiple generations. The phenomenon has been discovered and documented before, but never clinically researched, a fact Bansal attributes to the ideology of white supremacy in the political climate of the United States.

“As these Latino immigrants arrive in the United States, they actually fare better than the average white American in most statistical health indicators. But as the generations pass, they become more prone to health challenges in relation to the white population… [the Latino paradox] has been ignored in clinical research for a few reasons, one of which is white superiority and anti-immigrant political tendencies that have swayed funding away from it,” said Bansal.

Over the course of the term, Bansal interviewed various members of the Lawrence community, including hospital employees, social workers, health-related non-profit leaders, recent immigrants and the coordinator for the mayor’s health task force. She also researched clinical studies on Latino-American health issues and compiled all of her work into a 17-minute documentary at the end of the term.

“I’ve been working more with the [Lawrence] Mayor’s task force and the city government to use this [documentary] as a way to address mental health in public schools nearby, do [continuous] education in health centers and for medical personnel… also, I live in Florida, which is another huge state for Latinos – I want to make a part two,” said Bansal.