Getting Started in Healthcare Settings

By Bev Foster

Music has gained accep­tance as a viable ther­a­peu­tic modal­i­ty in health care, con­tribut­ing to qual­i­ty of life and care. The most com­mon health­care set­tings where music is used include:

  • long-term care/nursing homes,
  • assist­ed liv­ing and retire­ment homes,
  • hos­pices,
  • men­tal health orga­ni­za­tions, and
  • hos­pi­tals.

Research has shown that the effects of music ben­e­fit the whole per­son. Music can influ­ence breath­ing, enhance mood, increase social engage­ment, trig­ger mem­o­ries and pro­vide peace and com­fort. Remem­ber that music can also have adverse effects.

Here are six things to con­sid­er as you begin.

1. Scope of practice

Every­one can engage music for well-being. Music care is the inten­tion­al use of music by any­one for health and well-being. It is deliv­ered in health­care set­tings in a num­ber of ways. Read more about the 10 domains of music care deliv­ery.

As a musi­cian, you bring honed per­for­mance skills, musi­cal intu­ition and per­haps per­son­al care expe­ri­ences into care con­texts. You will be pro­mot­ing the ben­e­fits of music in real-time, which involves poten­tial com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing, decreased iso­la­tion, nov­el­ty of live musi­cians and music in a care set­ting, and the spon­tane­ity and inter­ac­tion live music brings.

Pri­or to get­ting involved in music-mak­ing in health­care set­tings, con­sid­er your scope of prac­tice, which includes your train­ing, expe­ri­ence and per­son­al com­fort lev­els. You are a music ther­a­pist only if you are cre­den­tialed as a music therapist.

2. Your musical offering

Musi­cians offer sev­er­al kinds of pro­gram­ming in health­care set­tings. What will you offer?

  • Engage­ment – sing-a-longs, and drum cir­cles, choirs and hand bell choirs
  • Staff well-being activ­i­ties – music pro­grams designed to sup­port staff debrief­ing and wellness
  • Envi­ron­men­tal music – rov­ing musi­cians, live music to over­all enhance feel of space
  • 1:1 vis­its — engage on an indi­vid­ual basis
  • Edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams – music lessons, music skills workshops
  • Enter­tain­ment – con­certs, recitals and entertainers
  • Hybrid – a mix of 2 or more of the above

3. Making connections

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic when access is lim­it­ed, con­nect with a care site either by phone or email. Typ­i­cal­ly, ask or look for the pro­gram man­ag­er, or vol­un­teer coor­di­na­tor. In hos­pi­tal set­tings, look for the patient expe­ri­ence or com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment team. Build­ing rela­tion­ships and trust takes time. You can do this by:

  • Hav­ing an ally or advo­cate with­in the care setting
  • Get­ting a rec­om­men­da­tion for work in oth­er care settings
  • Learn­ing about what is unique to a care setting

4. Participants

You are pro­vid­ing music care  for per­sons, not patholo­gies. Some may be non-ver­bal, and your music may elic­it a con­nec­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Oth­ers may have hear­ing deficits. Still oth­ers may be near death, and deliv­ery must be sensitive.

Infec­tion con­trol is always a big con­cern in health­care set­tings and even more so with the pan­dem­ic. Pro­to­cols may be in place which you will need to fol­low. Beyond the res­i­dents or patients, par­tic­i­pants may be oth­ers in the cir­cle of care, includ­ing staff, vol­un­teers, and fam­i­ly mem­bers. Under­stand­ing who you are deal­ing with makes for greater impact and helps you devel­op your program.

5. Start local

Start in your own com­mu­ni­ty. Grow from there.

6. Range of services

Health­care set­tings have a range of roles pos­si­ble for musi­cians from vol­un­teer to ful­ly-paid pro­fes­sion­al­ly-scaled musi­cians. For exam­ple, Con­certs in Care are set up region­al­ly across Cana­da and audi­tion play­ers If you want to expand your brand to include health­care set­tings, be sure your rates and the ser­vices pro­vid­ed are clear. A good exam­ple of this is

For more infor­ma­tion and recent research on music in health care set­tings, see Room 217 Research