After a three-year hiatus, an annual Yale School of Medicine tradition made its triumphant return to the stage on Saturday, March 30th, to very positive reviews.
Written, directed, and performed by graduating medical students and MD-PhD candidates, The Final Master Course was a musical send-up of the Class of 2019’s medical school experience. Many of the parts were filled by enthusiastic students whose energy more than made up for their inexperience on stage, but fourth year students Andrea Roberts (who played Kirsten Wilkins, MD, FW ‘06) and Caitlin Parmer-Chow (who played “Medicine Student”) truly impressed with their singing voices and presence.
Roberts, who has a background in musical theater, was proud of her class’ achievement, and happy to have taken part. “The experience really brought our class close together, right before graduation, and honored the amazing yet challenging four years we’ve spent together,” said Roberts. “On a personal note, it was so wonderful to perform one last time before starting my residency … to be back onstage with my classmates, singing the finale, which was about what we’ve accomplished over the last four years and what our future holds, was truly a special moment.”
Formerly known as the “Second Year Show,” and held by second year medical students, the reborn Fourth Year Show gave students a chance to poke lighthearted fun at each other, themselves, and beloved faculty and administrators.
The plot of the musical followed a well-intentioned faculty-administrator’s (Wilkins) efforts to use the curriculum to make YSM students more competitive with each other and with peer students, organized loosely around the 2002 supernatural horror film “The Ring.” Wilkins’ schemes were foiled when the students drew on the Yale System to unify against her, while the character of Nancy Angoff, MD ’90, associate professor of medicine and associate dean for student affairs (played by Kayla Isaacs) intervened on the students’ behalf.
The real Angoff, who attended the matinee show at 2 p.m. with her husband, was pleased with her portrayal, and proud of the class’ efforts. “I am thrilled that the show took place and that it will restart a wonderful tradition at Yale School of Medicine,” she said. “I love that now it is in the fourth year of medical school, where there are more and richer experiences on which to draw for parody.”
The musical drew on a variety of experiences and over a year’s hard work and collaboration. From production to choreography, from writing to rehearsal, each element of The Final Master Course was carefully managed. And the product was impressive; a show that ran to nearly three hours.
“Adam [Nolte, lead director] and I started storyboarding just over a year ago in Hope 110,” said director Andrew Silverman, who also played the role of Gallbladder. “Slowly but surely it turned into a full blown 70-page script!”
One student who had an unusually layered role in the production was Tejas Sathe. Sathe was portrayed as a confident surgical resident (played by Matthew Alsaloum) who falls in love with Silverman’s Gallbladder character, a sort of meta in joke to the class, who knew him both because of his love of surgery, and through his involvement in previous productions. “It was nice coming full circle—from watching the show in awe as a first year to co-directing it my second year to being a character in this rendition,” Sathe said. “My favorite part was having a one-line cameo. Being backstage for a few minutes reminded me of the magic of this show—forging memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Silverman noted others’ contributions, including that of Parmer-Chow, who “wrote brilliant songs, harmonies, and recorded backing tracks for almost all the live music,” Michelle Ferreira, who “spent sleepless nights composing the sheet music for everyone in the pit,” and Chloe Zimmerman, who “volunteered to be our fearless stage manager, making all the logistics behind the scenes possible.”
Parmer-Chow, who (like Roberts) performed in musical theater productions growing up and was in an a cappella singing group at Yale, said that everyone associated with the performance donated time and energy. “The show was really a group effort,” she said, “and it was so fun to be able to highlight our classmates’ hidden talents and creative ideas.”
Following a brief intermission, other classes as well as faculty members submitted satirical videos that both captured the frustrations of medical school and science in general, and paid tribute to the students’ creativity and skill.
The Fourth Year Show tradition dates back to 1949. While it has gone through many iterations, the show helps tie classes together. According to Jack Zhao, executive producer, it was very much a product of that thing which makes Yale School of Medicine special in an increasingly standardized and institutionally coherent, professional milieu: The Yale System.
“We very much hope that this show will cement the newly revived tradition of the Fourth Year Show for years to come,” said Zhao.
Cast members and participants were proud of their achievement, but also somewhat wistful that it was over. Said Isaacs, “This is one of the most special things I have ever participated in, not just in medical school, but possibly in my life. The Fourth Year Show created a powerful sense of community with my YSM classmates.”
The Class of 2019 has passed The Final Master Course—with honors.