Learning through the lyrics

Medical students inspired by award-winning professor to learn medicine through music.


For their first musical-medical mashup, Benjamin Roth and Reid McKibbon created a tongue-twisting parody of the "Hiphopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros" rap.

(Edmonton) Benjamin Roth and Reid McKibbon have two loves—music and medicine. For most of us, it would be hard to see how the two might mix, but for the pair of first-year medical students at the University of Alberta, the combination is creating a perfect harmony.

“I think we just lean into a more creative way of learning than what’s traditional,” says McKibbon.

Over the past few months, the pair have been stretching their creativity to make videos combining musical talent with medical education. Their first effort was a parody of a song featured in the television show Flight of the Conchords. Titled “Hiphophaemophilus vs. Rhymnovirus,” the video recreates the television show’s signature music video “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” but changes the lyrics to explain the symptoms of several infectious diseases.

Roth and McKibbon credit Sarah Forgie, professor of pediatric infectious diseases, for their foray into medically based music. Forgie, a 3M National Teaching Fellowship winner, has a unique approach to medical education and often performs songs for her students, covering popular tunes with the lyrics rewritten to be about infectious diseases.

Roth and McKibbon say she’s shown them they can be serious about their education while also having fun along the way. “I think she kind of prepped us to do this,” says McKibbon. “She performs live, with a ukulele most often.”

Roth adds, “the ukulele made it into our video too. It’s in the background in the audio track.”

“That’s true,” says McKibbon with a smile. “It’s a discreet shout-out, I think.”

For Sarah Forgie, it’s as nice a tribute as she could hope for. She’s glad her love of both medicine and music has proven as infectious as the illnesses she teaches about.

“I am completely amazed and so excited that these students, outside of the classroom and on their own time, decided to make a video to not only help their own learning, but also help others learn in a fun way,” says Forgie. “I was touched to hear that I inspired them.”

Since releasing their first video effort, Roth and McKibbon have already gone on to create another—a video titled "The Hyperthyroid Rap," a parody of Eminem’s song “Lose It.”

Although the effort may never win them widespread acclaim, the two say it is helping them to better remember complicated medical topics, and have fun while doing it.

“You worry about doing things that are a little bit on the silly side and how it will be received, but as long as people understand that you can be a serious student and also do fun stuff like this, that’s important.”