Finding Joy in a Time of Crisis

David B. Hellmann, M.D., M.A.C.P.

David B. Hellmann,

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, the 17th Annual Miller Lecture, delivered by CIM Director David Hellmann on May 12, was moved online. The lecture is made possible by the generosity of Mrs. Anne G. Miller, and her daughters, Sarah Miller Coulson and Leslie Anne Miller.

When we first began work on this issue of CIM Breakthrough, COVID-19’s explosive spread in China had just begun to gain the world’s attention. What a difference a few months can make. As I write this today, the Coronavirus has become a scourge around the globe. In the face of fear and uncertainty, it’s been incredibly heartening to watch as our clinicians and scientists across Johns Hopkins Medicine have mobilized to meet the expected surge in COVID-19 patients at our hospitals, and to pursue new protocols and treatments to stem the immense suffering caused by this global pandemic (see p. 2).

The courage that all have shown, with so many putting their own lives at risk to respond so selflessly, offers concrete reality to “Medicine is a Public Trust,” the pillar of our work here at the Center for Innovative Medicine. In the words of Suzanne Koven, a former Osler resident and now a Harvard faculty member working at Massachusetts General: “They Call Us and We Go.” That is the aptly titled commentary she authored recently in The New England Journal of Medicine, which explores how and why doctors during this COVID-19 crisis are living into their promise to never turn away from human suffering.

Clearly, the world is grateful, as evidenced by those quarantined people who come out to their balconies at night, from Manhattan to Milan, to sing their thankfulness. Their turning to music to find beauty and hope in the midst of crisis resonates with the focus of my 2020 Miller Lecture in May – “Bayview: Johns Hopkins’ Ode to Joy” – which explores one of my favorite pieces of music, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. There is a rousing melody in the 4th movement that is played first by the cello, then the viola, then the violin, before the entire orchestra comes in to play it together. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the promise of medicine. I imagine Beethoven first contemplating what the promise of medicine could be with the cello line of “caring.” Then how much grander medicine could be by adding the viola of “science.” Then he ponders how much more boldly the promise of medicine could be proclaimed by adding a third strand: justice related to health. Finally, Beethoven does what every great academic medical center should aspire to do: He puts it all together.

To me, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony really is a musical version of medicine as a public trust. In this time of global pandemic, it is an inspiration to all of us that harmoniously weaving together all three strands in academic medicine — caring, science and justice related to health – gives us the potential to achieve greatness in a way that any one strand cannot achieve on its own.


Aliki Perroti Professor of Medicine;
Vice Dean, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center;
Chairman, Department of Medicine