Until recently, Dr. Jeffrey Laman had never tried his hand at songwriting. And the only time he can recall singing in front of a crowd was when he did karaoke as a 10-year-old boy.
But this spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Kalamazoo and he saw the heartbreaking images coming out of Washington state and cities like Detroit and New York, he found himself searching for a way to express his empathy and sympathy, and show his gratitude for the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight.
“My heart went out to them and I was thinking about how hard that must be,” said Dr. Laman, who is in the final month of his Family Medicine residency training at WMed. “I was thinking that I wished there was a way to let those doctors in those hard-hit areas know that what they’re doing is being supported, that we’re behind them and what they’re doing is meaningful.”
In early May, as he was driving home from a day working in the clinic, Dr. Laman said “American Soldier,” a well-known song by country music artist Toby Keith, came on his radio and he knew – in an instant – what he would do to honor his fellow healthcare workers.
“I decided I was going to sit down and see if I could come up with something similar” to “American Soldier,” Dr. Laman said.
It didn’t take him long. Within an hour after he arrived home that day, he had penned the lyrics to “American Doctor.”
“It was very easy and it just seemed to flow and it’s about exactly what we do every day,” he said. “People are working like crazy and people are dying in front of them. I thought to myself, ‘People need to hear this.’”
Once he had the song written, Dr. Laman said he shared it with his wife and other family and friends, as well as Sarah Thompson, program coordinator for the WMed Family Medicine Residency Program in Kalamazoo and Program Director Dr. Kristi VanderKolk. They all loved the song, he said, and encouraged him to work with the medical school’s Office of Communications to bring the song to life and share it with the medical school community and the world.
From there, Dr. Laman reached out to WMed Communications Director Laura Eller and, just days after writing the song, he found himself in the studio at Lawrence Productions in Kalamazoo. Dressed in his WMed scrubs with a stethoscope resting around his neck, he belted out the lyrics to “American Doctor.”
I’m an American Doctor, An American
Beside my nurses and assistants, I will proudly take a stand
When lives are in jeopardy, I will always do what’s right
I’m out here on the front lines, sleep in peace tonight
American Doctor, I’m an American Doctor
As he listens and watches himself singing the lyrics, Dr. Laman said he is proud of the work he put in. He is also hopeful that the words he wrote will help his fellow physicians, as well as nurses and other healthcare workers, know that they are not alone in the important work they are doing to fight an unprecedented pandemic.
“I hope they feel a sense of pride in knowing that they’ve taken a stand and done a lot and sacrificed a lot for the betterment and the lives of their patients,” Dr. Laman said. “I also hope that the song reminds them that they are not alone, that we are in this together and that we each have people working alongside us in this fight.”
With his residency training at WMed set to conclude in June, Dr. Laman will head home to Orlando, Florida, where he will begin working in geriatric medicine for ChenMed. The move back to Florida will bring him closer to family, including his wife and child who remained in Florida while he completed his three years of training in Kalamazoo.
Dr. Laman said his wife was “ecstatic” when she saw the video of him singing “American Doctor.” His father cried, he said.
“All of this is about just doing what we can to help another person,” Dr. Laman said. "I am grateful for the support WMed has given to me throughout this process and hope that it can bring a sense of hope, support and encouragement to all the healthcare professionals who continue to uphold the hippocratic oath throughout these difficult times."