Lynn T. Tanoue, M.D., studied the violin through childhood, high school, and college. She played as a student at the School of Medicine in the late 1970s, alongside undergraduates in the Yale Symphony Orchestra and in a New Haven community orchestra.

But Tanoue’s free time was soon scarce. “I know a lot of people who studied an instrument all the way through college,” says Tanoue, professor of medicine. “But then you go to medical school, and your instrument winds up in the closet.”

After a chance encounter with an old friend, Tanoue has now returned to her musical roots. At a wedding in 2007 Tanoue spoke to Lisa M. Wong, M.D., a pediatrician, violinist, and president of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra, a group of musically minded physicians and medical students in the Boston area. Speaking with Wong inspired Tanoue to approach Thomas P. Duffy, M.D., director of Yale’s Program for Humanities in Medicine, about building an orchestra at the School of Medicine.

Duffy, professor of medicine, secured funding, and Tanoue sent a school-wide e-mail advertising an open sight-reading in Harkness Auditorium. “I got back hundreds of responses—‘Great idea. Sign me up. Here’s what I play,’ ” recalls a beaming Tanoue.

They came—and the Yale Medical Symphony Orchestra was born. Tanoue hired Adrian Slywotzky, a doctoral student at Yale School of Music, to conduct. She scheduled weekly rehearsals, selected medical artwork for promotional posters, and rented timpani. “We’ve given three concerts at Harkness,” Tanoue says, and each time the auditorium has been packed. “There clearly is a musical soul to the medical center that was waiting to be discovered.”

Tanoue’s musical homecoming is reminiscent of her return to the School of Medicine in 1991. After she received her medical degree, Tanoue remained at Yale for a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care. But after completing her fellowship in 1989, she found herself looking for a new home, and she worked for two years in private practice in the New Haven community. “It was probably the best thing I ever did, to leave for a little while,” she says. “I learned an enormous amount very quickly.”

Tanoue’s departure from Yale coincided with the appointment of asthma researcher Jack A. Elias, M.D. (now chair of the Department of Internal Medicine) as section chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine. Tanoue returned to Yale in 1991 to work with Elias on complementing Yale’s world-class research by hiring first-rate pulmonary clinicians and building clinical programs. Under their leadership, the number of Yale clinicans in pulmonary medicine has increased from three to 16, and the Winchester Chest Clinic at Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) now offers state-of-the-art specialty care in every aspect of chest medicine.

The daughter of an accomplished surgeon and a graduate of the same Honolulu high school that produced AOL founder Steve Case and President Barack Obama, Tanoue, now interim section chief, directs the Winchester Chest Clinic and co-directs, with lung cancer expert Frank C. Detterbeck, M.D., professor of surgery, the Thoracic Oncology Program (TOP) at Yale Cancer Center. The TOP, which has burgeoned as a successful multidisciplinary program, is participating in translational research efforts at the medical school, most notably with David L. Rimm, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology, to better predict lung cancer outcomes using molecular technologies.

And yet Tanoue, winner of the 2009 David J. Leffell Prize for Clinical Excellence, somehow still has time for music. Known as modest when discussing her career achievements, she describes the orchestra’s creation with a sort of surprised delight. But to colleagues who watched her build the clinical arm of pulmonary medicine at Yale, and to others who know her determination, the story is not, in the end, such a surprise.