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News: Medicine Show

Doctor sings, dances and jokes about health care

By Denise G. Callahan · October 15th, 2003 · News
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  Dr. Debbi Silverman prescribes a little music and a bit of humor to help understand the state of health care in the United States.
Jymi Bolden

Dr. Debbi Silverman prescribes a little music and a bit of humor to help understand the state of health care in the United States.



She's a medicine woman with music in her soul and healing in her heart -- and she's managed to meld the two modalities.

Last month Dr. Debbi Silverman enchanted about 150 physicians during the annual meeting of the Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati, showing there's more than one way to wield a stethoscope.

Donning different hats, wigs and other props while strumming her guitar and jamming with her musical partner, Mitch Liberman, Silverman gave the doctors a taste of their own medicine. She started her song and dance show introducing herself as Elvis Chesley, twanging a homemade tune about how doctors and lawyers should be friends.

The reference to Chesley is the crux of "Dr. Debbi's Musical Medical Show, A Parody of Healthcare in Cincinnati and America." Stanley Chesley is the lead attorney in a class-action suit the Academy of Medicine has filed against four large medical insurance companies.

Silverman's goal is to point up healthcare issues and innovations in an entertaining manner. She introduced her next number.

"Medications today have raised the quality of life," she said.

The audience guessed what was coming; they whispered the name "Viagra."

The petite powerhouse -- she held a note in her Viagra ballad for a good minute -- hopes to sell her medicine show to various venues. She has been wowing audiences at nursing homes, fund-raisers and children's events since closing her private practice in 2000.

The trick is to tailor her parodies to her audience.

"Before I did the Elvis Chesley song, I called several lawyers I know to make sure I wouldn't offend Stan Chesley," she says. "They all said, 'If I were Stan Chesley, I'd love to be called a shark.' "

Silverman doesn't like to dwell on it, but she branched into entertainment full-time after an employee had embezzled from her. The finances of the health care industry were another reason she became disheartened with practicing medicine.

"It was devastating when (the embezzlement) was shown to me, but then I realized it hadn't been any fun for about six years," she says. "I'm an old fashioned doc who used to spend 20 to 30 minutes with every patient. But the way the insurance companies began paying us, I could have spent an hour with a patient and I'd still get the same."

The doctors in the class action have accused Aetna, Humana, Anthem and United Health Care of colluding to reduce reimbursements to doctors in the region.

After eschewing her white coat for a feather boa -- her various props number about 50 -- Silverman decided to take up her other talents. She began performing when she received her first guitar at age 16. Singing and fancy footwork helped support her in college and med school.

Russell Dean, executive director of the Academy of Medicine, said members were pleasantly surprised by the cabaret performance. He sees lots of opportunities for Silverman to use both her medical acumen as well as her acting ability.

"I applaud what she's doing," Dean says. "I think it's kind of neat. Our group, the people who were at the dinner, were primarily doctors, so she wasn't trying to educate any of them. But I think in the right setting and with the right approach, it can be very educational."

No matter how talented an entertainer this doctor is, however, Dean said it's a shame to lose a fine physician.

Randy Milberg, a former patient, says Silverman was about the only person in the world who connected with his child.

"When my daughter was young, she was ornery with most folks, but with Debbi she would just melt," Milberg says. "She genuinely cares and looked at her patients as individuals, not just a cattle drive coming through the door."

Silverman admits she employed some unorthodox practices.

"I used to serenade people while I was doing pap smears," she says.

Although she plans to look at alternative medical practices in the Carolinas, for now she says she's happy providing the comedy cure.

"It's as thrilling to me right now as the first 15 years of my medical practice," she says. "I really want to use this venue to engage the public in their own health maintenance. If you can get them more engaged through entertainment, it might make them more aware." ©

 
 
 
 

 

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