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Beloved Med School Tradition Lives On

Megan Raymond, Katie Serody, Carly Heck and Bryce Churilla on a Zoom call
Creating this year’s Scope and Scalpel show is as challenging as last year, when COVID-19 restrictions forced University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine students to pivot to a video extravaganza to continue Western Pennsylvania’s longest-running amateur theater production.

Will there be a live audience this May? How should live performances and video be mixed? Fourth-year medical students are putting those challenges directly into the script of “The Breakfast Scrubs Present: Cramilton.” A show within a show will have five people—each a recognizable trope of a medical school student—wrestle to craft this year’s musical.

Enjoy the show

This year, Scope and Scalpel will be held on Friday, May 21, and Sunday, May 23. Check the group’s websiteFacebook and Instagram pages for details as the show’s details are finalized.

Interested in productions from yesteryear? Give my grand rounds to Broadway (PDF) and check out the Pitt Med magazine archives for a feature story on its 50th anniversary show (PDF) and a comic rendering of its 60th.

Megan Raymond is directing. Last year, she crouched in a closet to film her partner’s role in his class’ production, “The Lyme King.”

“We felt strongly that the class before us did a spectacular job adapting it, but we think the live component is what makes theater special and what makes Scope and Scalpel special,” Raymond said. “We decided that no matter what, we will do some of it live even with a smaller audience or smaller musical numbers. We landed on a hybrid structure.”

A 1955 gripe session among medical students spawned the idea for a satirical play. Ever since, Scope and Scalpel has become an uncensored and well-attended tradition of faculty, parents and younger students during graduation week. Shows have included “Scar Trek” (1975), “Bed Pan Walking” (1997) and “Desperate Housestaff” (2007).

“I’ve been to it every year,” said Carolyn Windler, a producer of this year’s show. “I’ve been looking forward to this since I started four years ago. All of us in the production, we were all theater kids in our educational experiences when we were younger. We’ve put so much time and love into the writing of the script. I’m hoping that kind of commitment will really come through in the final production.”

This year’s script is more personal, with less satire of faculty and more narrative about struggles the students face as they choose their specialties and make their matches in the uncertain time of COVID-19.

“Our class has been quite resilient. We’re so fluid on Zoom now. We did the auditions virtually, we’re doing the rehearsals virtually. We’re all vaccinated now, so we will come together to do the rehearsals at some point,” Windler said.

Raymond said the show also recognizes that younger Pitt medical students have shared these strange experiences.

a person in a blue sweater in front of the red Heinz Chapel doors
“We want to make the first years feel included. The show was important to me as a first year, but now our class’s first year is so completely unrecognizable from the first year that students are having on Zoom,” she said. “Scope and Scalpel can be really cathartic about the med school experience.”

The students are still fundraising and seeking a live venue for this year’s production, in the middle of all their professional end-of-year preparations.

One of this year’s faculty advisors demonstrates the sense of continuity to Scope and Scalpel. Allison DeKosky, an assistant professor of medicine, sang a number to the tune of the Styx classic “Come Sail Away” in the 2008 production.

“It’s a source of pride knowing it has gone on this long,” DeKosky said. “It’s a chance to be creative when med school is not necessarily creative. We are learning things and taking care of patients. But Pitt Med was really ahead of the curve in recognizing and promoting a well-rounded medical student in ways you can see and in some ways you cannot see.”

While DeKosky had a background in dance, other students revealed that they were trained opera singers or that they perform on a non-surgical instrument.

“You learn what a diverse and creative and capable group you are. ‘You’re a classical pianist? I didn’t know that!’” DeKosky said. “By the fourth year—when you are looking to move on to your next thing—to have this opportunity to be creative about your shared experience is really priceless. And to have the school itself bless it and help to fund it is really a unique thing.”

DeKosky said she’s happy to have a front row seat to this year’s show.

“This is the highlight of my mentoring work. I get to do a lot of great things with a lot of great students, but being asked to do this means: I’ve made it,” she said, laughing. “Wait until you see what this remarkable group of students has put together during these challenging times. You’ll see why I’m so honored to work with them.”