From Musician to Physician, an Unconventional Path
Rishikesh Prem Menon is the 2023 winner of the Kaiser Permanente’s Bernard J. Tyson Scholarship
Talking with Rishikesh Prem Menon, this year’s winner of the Kaiser Permanente’s Bernard J. Tyson Scholarship, there is a sense that the student-doctor almost wishes he had started a career in medicine sooner. Almost.
Before starting the College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) program at Touro University California (TUC), Menon pursued his passion for music and entertainment. As a lifelong singer and musician, Menon spent seven years working as a vocal session musician in Los Angeles, performing with the likes of Billie Eilish.
“I graduated from [UCLA], not really knowing what I wanted to do, and I had some doubts about medicine,” says Menon. “It was on my mind for a long time, but I doubted my convictions.”
As years passed, Menon's definition of success began to evolve—he recognized that his true passion lay in making a meaningful change through healthcare. It was an impulse fueled by stories of transformative figures like Bernard Tyson, the late Kaiser Permanente executive who expanded healthcare access and redefined patient care. Even while finding success in music, Menon’s desire to pursue medicine only became stronger.
“To me it said that this is something I do want to do; I should go back and get into medicine,” says Menon. His desire to return to medicine was driven by a need to create a positive impact in his community.
Initially concerned that the time spent in a musical career would be viewed as lack of commitment to medicine, Menon found that TUC was especially interested in him because of his background, not despite it. That set the tone for his future, as Menon embraced the professional musician experience as a powerful asset. The importance of authenticity in the approach, both as a musician and as a future physician, is important to Menon.
The training and stage experience taught Menon how to engage with people, even when he’s talking to an individual rather than a group. Learning how to read your audience and adjusting intonation, pace, and cadence to create a connection, and utilize emotional intelligence to put people at ease, are all things a professional musical career taught him.
Winning the Bernard Tyson Scholarship was vindication that the musical career was something to be celebrated and incorporated into bedside manner.
“I’m super grateful and if anything, it's just inspired me to continue what I've been doing with a renewed sense of purpose,” says Menon.
Combined with the lessons in cultural humility in his medical training, which included the value of listening, being willing to admit ignorance, and showing a genuine interest in understanding and respecting patients’ unique backgrounds and experiences, allows him to speak with patients in an empathetic way.
Menon's journey serves as an example of how a nontraditional path can lead to success in medical school. His commitment to authenticity, empathy, and cultural humility demonstrates the transformative power of human connection in patient care. Menon's unique combination of experiences – from the world of music and entertainment to TUC – has prepared him to make a lasting impact as a physician. As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, Menon's story reminds us of the importance of embracing diversity, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand and uplift those in need.