Nurse Also Fulfills Her Heritage as a Singer-Songwriter
The music that Liz Miller hears every workday consists of the beeps, bells and alarms of heart monitoring equipment on the telemetry floor at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, where she’s a nurse.
When she’s not at work, though, Miller is immersed in the sounds of real music: she writes it, performs it and is active with a professional group called the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Miller is not just an amateur aspirant, either. She’s in an alternative rock band called the Exconditionals. She recently performed in a singer-songwriter review at the Living Room at 35 East in Ardmore, a well-known boutique music venue. She’s earned money writing jingles – about QuikTrip, a Midwestern convenience store chain, for one, and House-Autry chicken bread crumbs, for another. She’s won numerous songwriting contests and for a while was a voting member of the Grammys.
Miller laments the radical change in music that’s made it impossible to prosper as a songwriter. “It used to be if you got a really great song, it could buy you a house,” she says. “Now, with streaming, everything’s free, and you get .0001 cents a spin. You need 1,000 spins to make a penny and the demo you did costs $800.”
As a child, Miller had the gift of being able to play music by ear. Her stepfather was Bobby Scott, who wrote “Taste of Honey,” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” Her mother was Pat Kirby, a regular singer on the Tonight TV show with Steve Allen.
Miller resisted the pursuit of her natural talent because she wanted a “normal” life, rejecting the volatility and volubility of parents struggling to survive as artists, including moving from city to city.
“I had a private music teacher; mostly he’d give me peanut butter crackers and iced tea and we’d talk about how much I hated coming there,” she says.
“All my friends had normal families with normal jobs, and I said, ‘I want to be normal.’ I watched The Brady Bunch; I wanted to be like that.”
But the music in her soul ultimately demanded expression. “When you don’t exercise your best destiny, something creative that feeds your soul – if you don’t do that, you wind up drinking too much or eating too much or taking risks,” Miller says. “I’m lucky that I knew what I could do.”
Miller supplemented her erratic income as a songwriter by tending bar until she saw a newspaper ad about a nursing shortage and decided to become one. That was 30 years ago.
“For the first half of my working life, I made people sick and for the second half I have to make them better,” she says. “It’s part of that Catholic penance thing.”
Miller writes music an hour or two a day, but not on the days she works as a nurse. “I can’t do it when I’m working,” she says. “Nurses are left-brained, logical critical thinkers; we’re so organized and multi-tasking and you just can’t go through a door in your head to where you can write music.”
Miller has compressed her work schedule – she works 60 hours bi-weekly – so she can have consecutive days off to compose music.
Recently, though, her two worlds came together: she was asked to write a song to promote Einstein’s application for Magnet status, a designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center that recognizes nursing excellence. The exhaustively detailed application was four years in the making, and Miller wrote a song, “Get on the Magnet Train,” to promote the event and inspire enthusiasm among the nursing staff.
Nurses from all over Einstein sang and danced in the video that was shared throughout the network. “That was fun,” Miller says.
Miller’s dream now is to continue combining her music and her medicine. “I want to get a trailer and go to all the music festivals all over the country and take musicians’ blood pressures and stuff and tell them to go to the doctor! Most of them don’t have health insurance,” she says.
Meanwhile, Miller will continue to write songs, perform them, and attend to the beeps, bells and alarms that compose the music of the hospital floor.