Heart Beats

Craig Barton: Nurse  |  Rapper

By Caperton Gillett

Craig BartonCool and the Gang: Craig Barton and his posse take a break to pose
in the UAB Heart and Vascular Services department.

There’s some mad flow all up in UAB’s Heart and Vascular Services department, and it’s not just the heart-lung machine. UAB rap stylist—and nurse—Craig Barton rose to semi-prominence with his “ER Rap” in 2005, and his rhyming celebrity has grown ever since. He’s been flown across the country to perform live, and departments around the UAB Health System are clamoring for his hip-hop skills.

Barton discovered his attraction to rap music as a teenager. “I loved hip-hop. That was my music of choice,” he says, naming Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J among his favorite artists and inspiration. During his senior year of high school, he and a friend formed a rap group called the Beachin’ Crew. “We did surf rap—Beach Boys samples and all,” he says. “Obviously, we didn’t go far.”

Watch “ER Rap,”
“UAB Is the Place to Be,” and “The Stroke Rap” on
Barton’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/daffyology.

Barton never stopped rapping, performing mainly at his church. But he ultimately found his most appreciative audience at the UAB emergency room. It started with a hospitalwide contest for employees to shoot the best video of their respective departments. Barton’s suggestion: a rap video. “I’ve been rapping for years. I’ve been an ER nurse for years,” he says. “So I sat down and wrote a rap about what I do every day.”

Barton recorded the rap in a friend’s studio and shot the video during one night shift in the ER. He managed to finish the video in a single take, using a handheld camcorder and a stretcher as a makeshift camera dolly. It was enough to win the contest—and to earn more than half a million hits on YouTube, as well as invitations to rap live for the Emergency Nurses Association in Minneapolis and a neurology conference in San Antonio.

He’s also had requests for more videos. Following the popularity of the “ER Rap,” the Health System commissioned a rap video of its own. “UAB Is the Place to Be” features more than 200 UAB employees and name-checks every department in the hospital. This spring, Barton filmed “The Stroke Rap” for School of Nursing professor Anne Alexandrov, Ph.D., to educate viewers about stroke detection and treatment. Future projects include videos about hand-washing and evidence-based nursing.

“One thing I like about rap music is that it’s a really good form of communication,” Barton says. “A typical rap song has a lot more words than a typical sung song, so you can pack in a lot more information. Plus I can’t sing.”