Performing Arts Medicine (PAM): Medical Help Exist!


Performing Arts Medicine

Finding a sympathetic doctor who ‘gets you’ is hard at the best of times. It’s even worse when you are a singer. Rarely do doctors understand that having a common cold is like the plague to a singer…that decongestant medications, changing the key of the song or just not singing really are not viable options. It’s even harder if the medical issue is more serious. But there are clinicians and therapists who are interested in the performer’s well being. Ian Macdonald from the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine tells us all about these people and their services.

iSing What is PAM and BAPAM?

Ian Macdonald PAM stands for Performing Arts Medicine. This is a specialist branch of medicine that caters specifically for musicians, dancers, vocalists, acrobats, actors, and other performing artists. It was formally introduced in the USA 32 years ago by an organization called PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine of America Association). BAPAM, the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine, began shortly afterwards and relatively independently— – we will be 30 years old in 2016. We were started by Dr. Ian James, a viola player and physician at the Royal Free Hospital, and have been treating and helping performers ever since. Currently we have 13 clinics throughout the UK with our HQ in Gray’s Inn Road, London. Check us out at First consultations are FREE, treatment thereafter is charged at a reduced rate.

iSing What is your role?

IM I am a registered clinician and the vocal health assessor and advisor, having been so since 1999. I’m also a member of Research and Education committee, a member of the Health Promotion Team and the current Editor of the BAPAM Journal.

iSing How many singers do you see per annum ?

IM It varies but approximately between 150-200 per annum on a 1-2-1 basis and about double that at the vocal health seminars.

iSing Any specific styles or genres you see more often than others?

IM There is a good mix, which is interesting. But recently we’ve seen more popular music singers.

iSing What are the most common issues you see?

IM Hyper-functional voice problems— – misuse, abuse and, over use. Anxiety disorders related to voice and performing.

iSing How do you assess a singer?

IM There are two main ways: Patients arrive having already been given a diagnosis from an ENT department but need a rehabilitation plan from us. Or, they arrive without much information and the assessment will consist of taking a detailed history and some tests that will give me the information necessary to make recommendations about the next step.

iSing What is the typical path a singer takes coming through BAPAM?

IM A] Phone Call – I have a problem! – B] Assessment of that problem – Pathways various: C] Students who have been UK residents for 5 years will possibly be eligible for funding to help with any treatment; D] Others – Referral to an ENT – we help with letters to their GP if necessary to get this moving along; E] Referral back to their GP to consider medication, investigations etc; F] Referral to other professionals who may help with advice on nutrition, physiotherapy, technique etc; G] Preliminary Structured Treatment Advice – Advice on key factors such a diet, sleep, rest, voice use, posture, singing and playing together, repertoire, physiological development, with help on a creating a voice diary .

iSing What are three top tips you would give singers to stay fit for performance?

1) Remember you are the instrument and all instruments need to be looked after independent of what they do. So in the early years get to know how much sleep, water, rest, exercise, meditation, and fun is good for you.
>2) Work out your nutritional needs.
3) Keep abreast of vocal health and vocal technique developments. As your body grows, look into periodic coaching if you don’t already have a regular instructor you see.

iSing If there is no BAPAM in the reader’s city/town what do you advise them?

IM Call us! We have specialists all over the UK. There may be one living next door! As we are now, most people have access to one of us without too much travel or expense. For foreign performers touring in the UK, their tour manager can set up a contact sheet in advance of the travel, then plug into BAPAM services with a phone call and get some contact numbers in advance near to where they will be playing.


Sign Up

iSing founder Line, is passionate about creating a place where singers can gain knowledge, skills, advice and support. Something she wishes she had when she first started. In her private practice she helps pro and semipro singers, artists and voice teachers with their voice, performance, mindset and teacher training. Her speciality areas include Performing Arts Medicine, anatomy, health, technique and mindset. She pulls on a wide range of qualifications, experiences and interests to assist her clients to build and develop the knowledge and skills they require for their craft. She is a member of the BVA, PAVA, PAMA, is an MU she.grows.X mentor and Education Section committee member and Advisor to Vocology In Practice, and a BAST singing teacher trainer.