A life filled with drama

UB faculty member Jeffrey Thompson played the role of Don Jose, the male lead, in Buffalo Opera Unlimited’s recent production of “Carmen.” Photos: Douglas Levere


Published December 17, 2021


It’s not like emergency medicine physicians need more drama in their lives. A typical Emergency Department shift can mean treating victims of everything from strokes to car crashes to gunshot wounds and more. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the daily intensity of emergency medicine.

And that may be exactly why Jeffrey J. Thompson, clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine, needs such a demanding and fulfilling outlet when he’s not at his day job.

In addition to teaching in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and treating patients at Buffalo General Medical Center and Erie County Medical Center, Thompson sings opera. Early this month, he sang the part of Don Jose, the male lead in Buffalo Opera Unlimited’s production of “Carmen.” (To comply with COVID-19 restrictions, all audience members had to show proof of full vaccination and remain masked. The only time performers weren’t masked was when they were onstage; masks were mandatory backstage.)

UBNow had questions.

When did you start singing?

I think I was singing before I could talk. I grew up on a dairy farm down near Letchworth State Park and my family loves to talk about how I used to sing to the animals. My late grandfather used to say I sang to the cows.

What did you sing to them?

I think I made stuff up, and probably also songs I learned at church.

How did you get interested in singing opera?

My choral singing came from my public high school. I cannot say how important it is to have music as part of the curriculum. A lot of it comes down to music education in the schools. When that’s not part of the school curriculum, we risk losing a generation of music lovers. If you are going to appreciate good art and music, there needs to be early exposure. Singing in church was also very important to me. I feel like I’ve been able to worship more because of the singing; it’s given me an outlet for singing.

How did you choose to go into medicine?

I remember trying to decide between majoring in biology or music. I knew medicine was the trajectory I wanted to take, but I wasn’t sure which was the better option. Then I realized that music can always be a part of me. At Houghton College, I majored in biology but I still sang in ensembles and operas as an undergrad. I made it work really well. I never really stopped singing.

How do you balance your clinical work with your singing?

Throughout medical school (Thompson is also a Jacobs School alumnus) I had a little practice organ in my apartment and I’d stop studying for a little while to practice. I used to joke that practicing music was my distraction from studying, and studying was my distraction from practicing.

What role has singing played now that your specialty is at the center of a global pandemic?

I’ve been thinking about the impact the pandemic has had on us — especially on this specialty — and I think singing has definitely given me an important outlet. It allows me to have this dual life — being a musician and being in medicine. The last couple of months have been difficult, now that we’re seeing another COVID spike. Making music allows me to not think about medicine or COVID for a while. When I was on stage doing “Carmen,” I didn’t give one thought to the world around me; I was caught up in the moment and only focused on the action onstage. It’s really very helpful. It has kept me sane throughout this whole pandemic.


As a member of the chorus for this opera production, I can attest that Dr. Thompson is also a great cook.  He brought in baked treats for both performances, and they nourished both cast members and the conductor during the intermissions.

Mary Bisson