Understanding the Musician as a Resource for Healthcare

Kate Murdoch, reflects on the importance of good team work with clinical staff, in her role as Musician in Healthcare at The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, Brighton:

One of many encouraging developments in the Wishing Well Programme at theRoyal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, has been the growing element of team-working with clinical staff, particularly in the high dependency unit (HDU).

The children and young people in the HDU are in a critical condition, and as musicians we have to be very sensitive to the medical needs of patients, whilst also respecting the personal space of patients, parents and carers at the bedside. Staff members really understand now that we are not musical entertainers, but a flexible resource of musicians capable of connecting with a wide range of patients and situations to help promote human connection, empowerment and creativity during challenging times.

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Key to this development has been briefings with clinical staff before we go on the wards, and increasing referrals asking us to visit individual children. The background information about patient’s situations, and what’s happening on the day, has been essential in helping to focus our musical interactions in a way that can most benefit patients. It has certainly been a learning curve for me in terms of flexibility as a musician, including finding creative and sensitive ways to connect with people during critical situations, including young patients who are at the end of life.

Another area of personal growth has been an increasing awareness of the importance of the sound environment in ward areas. There’s been significant improvement in the appearance of clinical spaces in hospitals with pictures, decorations and softer lighting. However, the ‘sound ecology’ of wards has received less attention, and for young patients it can be an very alien environment of beeping machines, wheeled equipment and adults moving and talking in a way different from home.

We try very hard to reduce the amount of invasive sound…but the reality is that this is a Critical Care area. Small children lying in bed are surrounded by monitors alarming, fluid pumps alarming and anxious voices. Having calming sounds that they can use to tune away from us can help significantly reduce their distress.”
Janet Lee, Critical Care Practitioner, The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital.

It’s an area ripe for further development, and it’s good to know that the Wishing Well Programme is already helping by bringing soothing and uplifting sounds into the wards.