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The Role of Music in Healthcare: What Nurses Should Know

Research shows music can help reduce pain and anxiety in postoperative patients.

Florence Nightingale knew it in 1898, when she wrote Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not: “I will only remark here, that wind instruments, including the human voice, and stringed instruments, capable of continuous sound, have generally a beneficent effect.”1

Today, research continues to validate Nightingale’s anecdotal observations: Music can be a powerful tool in healing and healthcare. And advanced practice nurses and nurse leaders may want to take note of the findings.

The Role of Music in Healthcare: What Nurses Should Know

A study presented at the 2018 World Congress on Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine found that music was as effective as an anti-anxiety medication in reducing anxiety in patients undergoing a nerve-block procedure. “Music medicine may be offered as an alternative to midazolam administration prior to peripheral regional anesthesia,” the University of Pennsylvania researchers concluded.2

And in “Music as an Aid for Postoperative Recovery in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” published in The Lancet in 2015, researchers reported that patients who listened to music before, during, or after surgery had less post-operative anxiety and pain.3

How Music Helps

The researchers found several ways in which music contributes to a patient’s well-being.

“Modern theories of pain suggest that pain experience is affected by physical and psychological factors. Cognitive activities such as listening to music can affect perceived intensity and unpleasantness of pain, enabling patients’ sensation of pain to be reduced. Another potential mechanism could be reduced autonomic nervous system activity, such as reduced pulse and respiration rate and decreased blood pressure,” wrote researchers Jenny Hole, Martin Hirsch, Elizabeth Ball, and Catherine Meads.3

Listening to music prior to surgery seemed to provide the biggest benefits in reducing pain, anxiety, and analgesia use, they reported.

What’s on the Playlist?

Florence Nightingale made another discovery that current research is validating: The type of music patients listen to can matter. Nightingale cautioned against the piano. “The finest pianoforte playing will damage the sick, while an air, like ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ or ‘Assisa a pie d'un salice,’ on the most ordinary grinding organ, will sensibly soothe them.”1

But the “Music as an Aid for Postoperative Recovery in Adults” researchers suggested no such prohibition. Instead, they said patients should choose their own music. “But whether this music should be of their own choice or from a playlist is unclear,” they said.3

“When patients were allowed to choose the music (from personal choice or from a playlist) we noted a slightly increased but non-significant reduction in pain, compared with when patients had no choice. Similarly, with patient choice, we recorded a small but non-significant reduction in analgesia use compared with when patients had no choice of music. However, we recorded a slight but non-significant increase in anxiety when patients had a choice of music compared with when they had no choice.”3

Nurses Play a Key Role

Susan Fowler, a nurse scientist with a multifaceted nursing career who also happens to be a Walden faculty member, also has witnessed music’s favorable effects. In “Tune into the Healing Power of Music,” for American Nurse Today, she wrote: “Music can target pain, anxiety, muscle tension, sleep, nausea, or patient satisfaction. Music can also distract a patient or create a healing environment for patients and their families. Many types of healthcare professionals, including nurses and physicians, are using music therapeutically.”4

But even nurses working in facilities without music therapists or similar professionals can include music in their practice, she said.

“… You can find other ways of bringing music to the bedside. You can use music yourself and perhaps even develop a program of music interventions. Depending on your location, training opportunities may be limited. And financial constraints may hamper your ability to provide patient resources … Neither of these issues should stop you, but you may need to show those who control the budget that music interventions can be a cost-effective way of achieving positive outcomes,” she wrote.

Researchers Hole, Hirsch, Ball, and Meads concur. “Music is a non-invasive, safe, and inexpensive intervention that can be delivered easily and successfully in a hospital setting. We believe that sufficient research has been done to show that music should be available to all patients undergoing operative procedures.”3

Grow Your Nursing Career With an MSN Degree

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing can deepen your knowledge and refresh your skills. You’ll have access to the latest research on topics like the use of music in medicine. And when you choose an online MSN program, you can immediately apply what you’re learning in your current nursing career.

In choosing an online nursing school, look to Walden University, which graduates more nurses with advanced degrees than any other university.5 Walden’s Master’s in Nursing programs have Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accreditation, a mark of excellence.

Walden’s online MSN degree program offers multiple specializations in two categories: nurse practitioner (direct patient care) and specialty practice (indirect patient care). No matter which path you choose, a master’s in nursing online can help you become a respected nurse leader who’s ready to bring excellence—and harmony—to the world of healthcare.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

5Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP codes 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse); 51.3808 (Nursing Science); 51.3818 (Nursing Practice). Includes 2016 preliminary data.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,