Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Songs From The Hospital


Music can supplement clinical care by creating a calm atmosphere to help patients feel safe and welcome. 

As a high school student, I spent a lot of time volunteering at a local hospital. Since high school volunteers were not allowed to partake in clinical care, I worked at the front desk in the hospital lobby. My duties included delivering flowers to patients, helping visitors with directions, and orchestrating traffic around the entrance. These tasks, seemingly separate from patient care, made me question how much influence I truly had as a volunteer. I wanted more clinical-related interactions with patients, thinking that was the only way that I could improve patient experiences.  


The hospital lobby was always busy. It was the main intersection through which staff, visitors, and patients traveled to their destinations. Close to the front desk was a grand piano, open to anyone who wished to entertain the ongoing traffic. I often played for everyone. I’d been playing for years, and this allowed me to practice while waiting for tasks to help with.  


At that age, I didn’t realize how much of an impact I had by simply playing the piano. I was always surprised by how many people who sat near me to listen. Even the most basic piano repertoire that my amateur skills limited me to generated a wave of smiles, nods, and “thank yous” from people passing by. Every time I offered some sound that softened the intensity of the hospital environment, people around me were grateful.  


Now, as a third-year medical student, I understand how easy it is to get caught in the hectic nature of hospital work and patient care. The hospital is now my everyday workplace, one where the cacophony of alarms and beeping machines is the norm. It’s easy to become conditioned to these sounds. And it’s just as easy to forget how intimidating such an atmosphere may be for patients and visitors.  


While working at the front desk, I was able to contribute to a healthcare setting that was an inviting space for all members of the hospital, along with the local community that the hospital served. I had an incredible amount of influence when I filled the lobby with music. And while I had no way of measuring this, I’m sure that the piano’s music, and the peaceful atmosphere it created, trickled down to the clinical practice and patient care on every floor of the hospital. 


As healthcare professionals, it’s important to look for ways to improve our workplace environment for the betterment of ourselves, patients, and the community we serve. Such work may initially seem tangential to direct patient care, but it’s essential to creating a structure in which all members of the hospital, including patients, feel safe and welcomed.  


Here are a couple of ideas to consider:


1. Bring music to your clinical space.

Music is an inexpensive, effective intervention that can improve the experience for patients. Data shows that allowing music in the hospital can lead to higher patient-reported positive outcomes and a decreased level of stress. Find areas in the environment in which music can be implemented.


2. Also embrace silence.

While music does provide comfort to patients, silence and noise reduction can be an effective measure in decreasing patient and staff frustration, stress, and distractions. Certain areas in the hospital, such as those around patient rooms, should be limited in noise. This can be done by limiting care team conversations in corridors and using ambient lighting.


A Johns Hopkins hospital playlist from the Center For Psychedelic Research:




This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.