After a five-year stint at Mayo Clinic, it’s time for the "Singing Surgeons" to move on.
Wearing scrubs-inspired blue, Elvis Francois and William Robinson played to a socially distanced crowd on the Forager Brewery patio and lawn Wednesday night, joined by orthopedic physician assistant/guitarist Jesse Kuseske.
The duo went viral in 2018 after Francois’ covers of classic songs — which began on his Instagram account in 2017 — went viral. Robinson has accompanied the singer/surgeon on piano ever since.
The orthopedic surgery residents spent three days planning the farewell concert and practicing new songs — including an impromptu rendition of “Shallow” from 2018’s “A Star Is Born,” which called for an audience member to sing the second verse, and ending with a reprise of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Francois’ namesake, Elvis Presley.
After Rochester, the two will split for training fellowships — Francois to Boston, and Robinson to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
The doctors will reunite at least once in the coming months to make more music. They have been asked to play the in-person Indy 500, which is planned to take place Aug. 23 in Indianapolis, Ind. Francois promises to wave to Rochester viewers from the speedway.
But their musical journey isn't over, as they told 507 Magazine. Answers have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Do you two plan to sing and play going forward? What do you see that looking like as you go to separate places?
Elvis Francois: I think for us, the goal is going to be to find a way to continue sharing music. We’re going to be in different cities, so I think it’s going to be a little challenging, but I think it’ll be something that we continue to share, so we’ll definitely find a way.
William Robinson: I think one of the huge advantages about being a little more apart is that it’ll give it some time — a lot of the time, we communicate by FaceTime or sending each other recordings of us playing our separate parts. I think that being apart will allow us time to not only prepare new stuff for everybody, but also maybe start the process of writing our own music, or dabbling into that, so that we can kind of explore getting our own message across instead of just performing others’ words, which is our next-step goal.
Given that interest, was there ever a time when either of you considered pivoting into music full time?
Francois: For me personally, no. The goal was always to help people with surgery and with medicine. Music was something that I’ve always gravitated towards, and since two to three years ago that I’ve been doing more, but for me, I’ve never seriously thought about actually taking a course on music, and if you told me five years ago when we started our residencies at Mayo Clinic that this would be something that we would be able to share on a stage like this, I would not have thought it would be possible.
Robinson: I agree completely. ... The road to a medical career is a very, very, very long one. And since our recognition with our music has been so recent, it wasn’t in our cards at this point to give up our medical careers to go to music.
Elvis, I talked to you in 2017, shortly after your Instagram cover of “Feeling Good” went viral more locally. In that interview, you mentioned singing in the OR to lift co-workers’ spirits between cases. Is that still something you do?
Francois: Yeah, for us, a lot of it has been the realization that we’re training to be surgeons and we’re training to help people with medicine and surgery, but music really goes places that medicine can’t go. In between cases, you know, while you’re getting the operating room ready for the next case, or after a long day, it’s always neat to kind of pull people aside and sing a couple songs. Even if it’s not formal, just a tune in the hallways, that really brighten’s people's day. That’s something that we found to be true in sharing music inside and outside of the hospital. … We like to share with patients, but also our co-workers, who are working long hours and long shifts.
Looking back on your time in Rochester, what accomplishment are you most proud of? Is it in the field of music or medicine?
Robinson: In the last five years, my greatest accomplishment was having and raising my 2-year-old daughter. I know that’s not really music or medicine, but my wife is also a physician, and so the time requirements for both of us individually, professionally, have been profound. To have a little girl and try to show her the ways of the world and raise her from being a little nugget to now running around and causing trouble has been my greatest accomplishment, personally. I would say professionally, Mayo Clinic speaks for itself. Time and time again — "the greatest hospital in the world." It’s just a culmination of five years’ worth of effort, graduating from the orthopedic surgery residency is really the highlight of my professional career. That I’ve now joined the ranks of the greats who have come before Elvis and I, who made the Mayo Clinic what it is. The combination of those two things are the highlight of my five years.
Francois: So, I don’t have a beautiful little baby just yet — that’s to be in the future. But I would say that at present, probably my greatest accomplishment is, one, being able to train at the No. 1 hospital in the world and having mentors who (impart) an incredible career’s worth of knowledge. … From a music standpoint, it’s simply knowing that we were able to share a little bit of music that crossed oceans and crossed continents, and touched people on the other side of the world. That’s something I go to sleep every night knowing, and pinching myself, because my father, who is a Haitian immigrant who came to the country with nothing, gave me the opportunity to become a physician, but then also, an opportunity to share music.
Do you have any advice for the next class of residents coming to Rochester?
Robinson: I would just simply say to take every moment in. Don’t take anything for granted. Even in little Southeast Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic itself is a global melting pot similar to how New York and Chicago and Los Angeles are. We have our own little melting pot here at the clinic. You will come from all walks of life and meet people from all walks of life, and that is something you should never take for granted. And you can learn (as much) from your peers — from the janitors, from your co-workers, from anyone across the clinic — as you can from your mentors. I will tell you, in five years, I learned so much — keep an open ear, keep an open eye.
Francois: If I had to give advice to new doctors in training, I would say if you have a job at Mayo Clinic, you’re already a good doctor. But to be a great doctor, you have to remind yourself at all times that you’re taking care of someone’s aunt, someone’s uncle, someone’s cousin, someone’s mother, someone’s father. If you remember and care about the person, I think the science and technical things will fall into place. Just remember that these are people who are your and someone else’s loved ones. Use that to drive your passion to heal and make them better.
Watch the Facebook Live recording of the performance here: