Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Purple Rain


I observed my attending physician connect with a patient over a popular Prince song. From this encounter, I learned the power of discovering a person’s passions.

“How’s it going?” Dr. Cervantes asked over the beeps and whirs of various machines. Mr. L’s eyes barely opened, as he whispered “good” through pursed lips.  


It was Friday, and Dr. Cervantes and I were visiting the dialysis unit at Johns Hopkins. After learning about hemodialysis in my nephrology unit, I wanted to better understand the experience of someone undergoing treatment. I learned that over the course of a few hours, multiple times a week, an individual will have hundreds of liters of their blood filtered through a machine. I was in awe that any person could endure such a herculean process. And while I may have understood the facts of the textbook, I didn’t have a complete picture of how exhausting such a treatment can be until I met Mr. L.  


Because he seemed quite energy deprived, I didn’t know whether it would be appropriate to ask Mr. L another question or let him rest. However, before I reached a conclusion, Dr. Cervantes pulled out her phone and the opening chords “Purple Rain” by Prince filled the air. During the last dialysis session, Dr. Cervantes and Mr. L had talked about their shared admiration for the artist. She knew just what to do to bring some comfort to the patient. 


When he heard the first chord, Mr. L’s eyes became wide and alert. “I love this song!” he said, as he bobbed his head in rhythm to the guitar. As Prince’s melodic voice flooded the room, we swayed with Mr. L until the song’s slow fade. No words needed to be exchanged. Prince did the talking for us.  


After the song ended, Mr. L told us about a music festival he wanted to attend at the end of the month. “We’ll let you get some rest, so you can recharge for that concert,” Dr. Cervantes said with a soft smile.  


From this conversation, I saw first-hand a moment of excellent patient care that focused on human connection. As a medical student, I’m led by three principles as I seek to give the best care to patients: 


1. Go beyond managing symptoms. Try to understand who a patient is outside of the clinical space. What’s important to them?   


2. Shift the focus to how the patient sees themselves beyond their disease.  


3. Don’t underestimate the power of a shared experience. For example, a song, love for a particular type of food, or a similar taste in movies.


By sharing a song with Mr. L, Dr. Cervantes gave her patient more than just hope for a future concert. She communicated a commitment to his humanity and prospering.  As we walked out of the dialysis unit, the end of “Purple Rain” echoed in my mind:  


 I only want to see you
Laughing in the purple rain 


May we continue to bring healing, compassion, and joy to our patients, just as Dr. Cervantes did that day. 








This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.