Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Dr. Carey Strom
Feb 08, 2021 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Dr. Carey Strom knew from the time he was 6 years old that he was interested in medicine. A Cedars-Sinai gastroenterologist since 1983, his first foray into the field was building a childhood model of an invisible man with all of the organs intact.
He also always had a dueling passion, falling in love with the guitar. Originally from Chicago, he grew up on the city's vibrant blues scene and dreamed of one day playing on stage.
He put music aside to pursue his medical career, moving to California to take an internal medicine fellowship at Cedars-Sinai, but the guitar never really left him.
"The music was always inside of me," Dr. Strom says.
So after he established his gastroenterology practice and turned 50, he leapt at the chance to pick up his old instrument. Inspired and helped along by his many musician patients, he joined up with eight other music-loving doctors and started performing—in surgical scrubs—as part of the Docs of Doheny.
We caught up with Dr. Strom to learn more about his two longtime passions.
Tell us about your second act as a musician
Dr. Carey Strom: Medicine really keeps me grounded. It nourishes a different part of me in the soul. I don't prioritize music over my medicine, but I think when you accomplish a goal, you say to yourself, "Now I did it. What's next?" Why not rekindle the thing that's been lurking in my heart?
So, I walked into the Guitar Center and hired a studio musician as my instructor, and I recultivated this passion that was living inside of me for many years. Now I play every day.
We have played all over L.A. for parties and fundraisers, from the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to serving as the opening act for the late, great Al Jarreau.
It's enriched my life. It's going to help me live longer. And, honestly, it's a stress reliever.
Which tunes do you and your band have on rotation?
CS: I love Latin sounds. Carlos Santana is my favorite. He's a great guitar player. I have watched a lot of his teaching videos and modeled myself after him. We play a lot of his music. My favorite song to play and to sing is "Smooth" by Santana. It's a very soulful, sexy song with a great beat.
We play a broad range of music from the '70s all up to now—The Beatles, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, Bruno Mars, Camila Cabello. We play disco music because it's great dance music and the horns are great.
The horns are like extra garlic and oregano on some nice capellini pasta. It just adds some spice on top of our drums, rhythm section and bass. It's beautiful. And we're always learning new songs.
What does music bring to your life?
CS: Everybody needs something to soothe the soul. As a physician, music definitely heals. There's a lot of stress going on, and we all need some place to decompress. So, for me, music is the best medicine. It's an avenue to relieve some of the stress and anxiety of everyday living.
"There's psychotherapy. There's sedatives. There's music."
Stress can also be very physical. Do you see that in your medical practice?
CS: A lot of what we see in gastroenterology (GI) is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which may be based on stress. We've seen a drastic increase in IBS during the pandemic because of anxiety.
People often hold their angst in their gut, so we're seeing a lot of physical symptoms manifesting from this. Normally half of our practice is IBS. I'd say right now, during the pandemic, about 70% right now is due to anxiety and gut dysfunction.
People are frightened, and the gut is the epicenter of angst in our body.
How did you choose the gastroenterology specialty?
CS: I did my residency in internal medicine and was board-certified in it, but ultimately, I found it to be too broad. And I'm very tactile: I was always very good with my hands and at techniques, and gastroenterology is like a surgical subspecialty of internal medicine.
With our procedures, we can stop a bleeding, take out a tumor, put a stent in a bile duct. We help people quickly. We see a patient come in sick and walk out well—and really grateful. It brings the patient a lot of satisfaction and gives me enormous satisfaction, as well.
You've been with Cedars-Sinai for almost four decades. What has kept you here so long?
CS: There's a lot of camaraderie and collegiality. The doctors are fantastic. I developed these great relationships with very nice people, not only professionally but also socially. It became more a way of life. It's more than working as a doctor in a medical practice—it's who I am.
Cedars-Sinai has great healthcare providers, many of whom are also talented and gifted musicians. I've played with a GI nurse who's also a bass player, and an internist who's now our band's horn player. I'd like to include more Cedars-Sinai talent in our band.
Cedars-Sinai has been so good to me medically. They've given me the life I live now. I'm very grateful.