Clinical placements

The effect of music therapy in palliative care

When nursing student Rosie Emsley used her musical talents to entertain patients, she learned what a positive impact creative approaches to care can have on health and well-being

When nursing student Rosie Emsley used her musical talents to entertain patients, she learned what a positive impact creative approaches to care can have on health and well-being


Playing music for patients can make a positive difference to their care. Picture: Getty

At the end of the first year of my nursing degree I spent my clinical placement in a hospice, where the majority of patients were admitted for palliative care.

One of the patients, who I will call Jack, had been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer that had spread to the bone. When Jack was informed by the doctors that his condition had worsened, he jokingly replied that he hoped he would be free of arthritis in the next life so he could play the piano again. 

Jack loved music, and when he heard that a band were due to perform in the ward that week, he was excited. Then, when the group had to cancel at the last minute, he was disappointed. 

Positive impact

After my mentor told me about this, we discussed the possibility of me using my own musical talents to step in and entertain the patients. That evening, I prepared a few songs that I thought Jack and the other patients might enjoy. 

The following day, Jack and some of the other patients came to the day therapy room to hear me play the piano. When I had finished, the patients seemed to have enjoyed it, and my mentor thanked me.

When I saw the smile on Jack's face at the end of my performance, I could see how much it had meant to him. I was glad to have had a positive impact on his emotional well-being as well as the other patients'. 

The next day I brought in my saxophone and played some more songs. The patients told me I had cheered them up by giving them the chance to have a dance and a sing-song. 

Non-clinical approach

This experience made me appreciate the musical skills I had developed in my younger years. After reflecting on how my other creative skills could be used in a care setting, I arranged arts and craft sessions for the patients. 

These also had a positive effect on the patients' emotional and cognitive development, and even though my placement at the hospice has ended, staff continue to run the sessions. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this placement, and learned a lot about the importance of communication and interpersonal skills in palliative care. It had a big impact on my attitude to nursing practice, too. I experienced first-hand what it is like to make a positive difference to patients by using a non-clinical approach. 

Throughout the rest of my training, and in my future career, I will remember Jack's smile and how much my performance meant to him. Since completing the placement, I have decided I would like to specialise in palliative care once I am a registered nurse. 


About the author 

 

 

 

Rosie Emsley is a third year adult nursing student at the University of Manchester

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