Dr. Karen Lasser ’86

This season, BYSO alumni spotlights will feature alumni who are doing essential work during this time of crisis. Karen E. Lasser, MD, MPH ’86, Cello, is a Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health. At Boston Medical Center, Dr. Lasser is a general internist (a primary care doctor for adults). Her primary areas of expertise and research are quality of care in primary care, interventions to reduce health disparities, and primary care practice-based research. Dr. Lasser completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard College, her medical degree from Cornell University Medical College, and her public health degree from Harvard School of Public Health.

Although Dr. Lasser works in a number of different areas, most of her research focuses on health disparities and improving quality of care for underserved patient populations. “My interest really grew after spending time abroad, particularly in Brazil, where we would visit people’s homes that lacked plumbing or proper ventilation. These living conditions led to many of their illnesses, such as tuberculosis, and many individuals were not receiving medications that could prevent tuberculosis. Here in Boston, we see this too – there are folks not getting the care that they need, or not getting the right preventive care. My work specializes in developing interventions to try and address those issues.”

While Dr. Lasser has been working in the medical field for many years now, she still makes regular time to practice music when she can by participating in chamber music and performing at her synagogue. “There have been times in my life when I’ve played more or less intensively, but it’s always been an important part of my life, even at times when I wasn’t expecting it to be. During my undergraduate years I did a semester abroad in Paris, and during medical school I went abroad to northeastern Brazil for a research project. Both times, I was not able to bring my cello with me, but both times someone lent me a cello to use while I was there!”

COVID-19 has made playing the cello with others and practicing medicine harder, but Dr. Lasser has found ways to stay connected to music and to her patients. “Previously, I was spending about 80% of my time on campus, and now it’s closer to 20%. I do treat some patients in person, but I am also able to see patients in the Influenza-like Illness Clinic at Boston Medical Center virtually, which is safer, and in some ways easier for communication, since the masks, plexiglass, and PPE make it harder to hear patients. My kids and I have all switched to making music virtually as well – and since I have more time without a daily commute, there’s more time in my life right now for music.”

Dr. Lasser, like many other BYSO alumni, feels that her time at BYSO helped prepare her for her career today. “My experience definitely prepared me for challenges – in BYSO we played Rite of Spring by Stravinsky under Eiji Oue. It’s a really hard piece, and one that you have to put a lot of hours into. Medicine is the same way – you have to put in the work, as a student, and a resident.”

“Music teaches you to listen – as part of an orchestra, you have to listen to everyone else around you. When you’re a doctor, it’s important to listen to your patients, and to pay attention to details.”

Dr. Lasser is also a BYSO donor, and she considers BYSO an important cause to support. “BYSO is very special to me. As a kid, I went to a school where it wasn’t very popular to be a musician. At BYSO, people were excited to play instruments and play music, and it felt normal and welcoming. Having conductors and artistic staff who are charismatic and get kids excited about music is also great for the students. I’m glad to support the orchestra and the ways that they share music.”

Dr. Lasser hopes that our current students do not stress too much about graduating and the role that music will play in their lives. “Many of you will have to make a decision about whether you’d like to pursue music professionally or not. I would encourage you to keep an open mind about how you can be involved, such as in a smaller symphony instead of a professional one. You may even be happier for it, since you will appreciate music for what it is and not see it as your job.”

“There may be times in your life when you’re busy with other things, and you don’t have time to play as much as you wish you could. But music will always be with you and, because of your experience playing in BYSO, you can pick it up again easily when you’re ready. It’s okay to take a break and come back to it – music will always be part of your life.

Are you, or someone you know, a BYSO alumni with a cool or interesting story or life update to share? Contact Jessica Chen, Development & Alumni Relations Associate!