Dancing in the purple rain: lessons for clinicians from Prince

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


This year has been a tough one for the loss of celebrities. We’ve lost some great people. It doesn’t seem two minutes since the world was mourning the great David Bowie and now we hear that Prince has died suddenly, age just 57. Hearing the news, I added Purple Rain to the top of my iTunes playlist and found myself reflecting on the lessons that we might learn (as clinicians) from the great man.

If you can spare 8 minutes, take a look at this YouTube video of Prince’s live performance at the Superbowl. This really blew me away. They’d never had rain at the Superbowl but, on this particular day, the rain was pouring down as strong winds blew through the stadium. The organisers called Prince (probably fearing what he might say) to tell him about the terrible weather for his performance. His reply: “Can you make it rain harder?”

Now it might have been easy for Prince to feel a bit down about the weather. He might have called off the show, he might have moaned. But no. He revelled in it. And his audience loved it. The show came to an amazing climax with the most pertinent (and possibly Prince’s greatest) song of all: Purple Rain. Prince turned a miserable turn of events into something magical. He turned a bad situation to his advantage – and in turn to the advantage of the thousands of fans watching.

But what can clinicians learn from this?

We’re not performers on a stage, but we do perform for our patients. Every encounter we have with a patient is a performance of sorts – not in the sense that we should be ‘acting’ or ‘artificial’ (absolutely not!), but we need to give our patients what they need from us. We leave our own problems and stresses behind and we become, for the patient and their family, ‘their doctor’. It’s good to keep the personal touch – to share things about ourselves with patients. That lets patients know we’re human. But how we come across to our patients is an important part of the treatment we provide for them – and to help them to stay positive and to feel better, we have to be positive too.

Right now, we are facing a ‘purple rain’ in healthcare. Emergency Departments are crowded in most countries, it seems. In the UK, we’re having a really stormy time with growing demand and static funding, creeping privatisation of public services, increasing debts of NHS Trusts, capped locum and agency rates, removal of bursaries for student nurses, not to mention the imposition of the new junior doctors contract. It’s raining for us at the moment.

In the midst of this rain, we clearly need to fight for better times – and it’s vital that we do for the future of healthcare. But while it’s raining we could also take a lesson from Prince. When times are really hard and we’re hurting, people might expect that we would cower, take shelter and feel sorry for ourselves. We might moan about our plight and feel the effects of low morale. But, it’s also within our power to choose to dance in the rain: to stay positive, to smile, to remember that emotions are contagious and that the emotions we might want to pass on throughout most of our day are happy ones, and in doing so to be a bit like Prince was at the Superbowl.

If we can manage to do that, it’s not just us that benefit – but we can better help our patients to dance through their own rain storms too. Ultimately this is about resilience: the ability to stay positive, to have humour and to keep our hope when things are going wrong – and it’s about passing that feeling on to others. I think that all clinicians can learn an important lesson from Prince. RIP, a legendary musician and performer. What he did there is far from easy. But it was great.

I’ll leave you with this terrific piano solo version of Purple Rain to mull this over to. It really is terrific.


Cite this article as: Rick Body, "Dancing in the purple rain: lessons for clinicians from Prince," in St.Emlyn's, April 23, 2016, https://www.stemlynsblog.org/dancing-purple-rain-lessons-emergency-medicine-prince/.

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