Music to medicine: Classically trained violist, jazz pianist thrives as dermatologist

September 1, 2009

Hungarian-born dermatologist Judith Hellman, M.D., has a life rich in experiences. She served in the Israeli Air Force; she's a classically trained violinist and jazz pianist; and, ultimately, she trained in medicine to follow the footsteps of her father, the late Lawrence Hellman, M.D. - formerly on the dermatologic faculty of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York - and her mother, Vera Rados, M.D., an allergist/immunologist, who continues

"Some people inherit money, but what I inherited was my dad's Friday afternoon clinic (at Mount Sinai)," says Dr. Hellman, associate clinical professor, Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Doing her part

Like everyone in Israel, Dr. Hellman was enlisted in the Israeli military. Her time to serve came during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Her flair for medicine surfaced then, as she trained as a paramedic and later was chosen to be a specialized flight paramedic for the Israeli Air Force.

Despite her post, she flew little and worked most of the time in the medical center, administering medical tests and medications. She says she emerged from the experience with a good sense for human nature.

"What I got to see was that, during this wartime of great stress, everybody pulled together. Everybody went out of their way to provide some act of kindness, and that really touched me very deeply," Dr. Hellman says.

An ear for music

Her parents encouraged medicine, but Dr. Hellman gravitated toward music.

In pursuit of this happiness, Dr. Hellman earned a scholarship to and graduated from Berklee College of Music, Boston, where she excelled in jazz violin.

"At some point, I switched to jazz piano. Then, I went into jazz violin, because my technique on the piano is not nearly as good as it is on the violin," she says.

But it was her love for human interaction and dislike for the business of music that would eventually turn her attention toward medicine.

"I wanted to do something that allowed me to make contact and get to know human beings on a more regular basis," she says.

Finding her place

Initially, Dr. Hellman had an eye for psychiatry, but her father's persuasiveness about going into dermatology and carrying on the profession he so loved made her look at the option.

Today, Dr. Hellman's small solo practice is in the heart of New York City, on Central Park South. She practices medical and cosmetic dermatology, with an emphasis on surgical and laser work.

One of her areas of interest is the use of the pulsed dye laser to treat acne. She has more than five years of experience treating acne patients who do not want to take oral antibiotics or isotretinoin. She says pulsed dye laser treatment outcomes rival those of the tried-and-true options.

The next verse ...

Dr. Hellman has by no means left her music behind. She nurtures her love for the art form through her 12-year-old son, Michael, who attends a music school for gifted children.

"I work on his music with him. Occasionally, when the mood strikes, I still sit down at the piano or write music," she says.

Judith Hellman, M.D.Born: Debrecen, Hungary
Medical school: Mount Sinai Medical School New York
Internship: Beth Israel Medical Center New York
Residency: State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook, N.Y.
Hobbies: Music (playing, writing, listening); reading books; theater
Family: 12-year-old son, Michael