Music and Medicine

Music as Medicine:  AMWA’s Music and Medicine Committee


Share Your MusicAMWA wishes to support the incorporation of music as an important and complementary therapeutic intervention in the practice of medicine. Music can be beneficial for an array of medical, neurologic and psychiatric conditions. Music can help both provider and patient in myriad ways.

The blending of music into a physician’s practice might be achieved by being introduced in an aspiring physician’s training in medical school or residency. Educational and mentorship opportunities would help achieve this goal, which already exist in some medical schools.

The Music and Medicine Committee strives to encourage music as a therapeutic modality to all physicians. Performing arts and creative outlets for healthcare professionals and patients has the power to:

  • Give the provider a creative outlet apart from or in combination with their identity as a physician
  • Help the provider and patient connect on a different and meaningful therapeutic level
  • Help the patient in considering music as a way to partly manage their condition
  • Play a role in reducing physician burnout

As part of our committee, we would like to feature providers and programs that are championing music and medicine. We aim to encourage providers to consider music to be “prescribed” in their practice, and to possibly arrange performances in their clinic or hospital for patients.

We invite all members of AMWA to join the committee, and we welcome feedback and ideas. We are eager to be your musical mentors in medicine and hope that you wish to become “AMWA music ambassadors!” Please feel free to contact us for guidance  through AMWA.

Founding members of AMWA’s Music and Medicine Committee,

Co-Chairs: Dr. Tina Wang and Dr. Mary Rorro
Student Co-Chairs:  Rebecca Hurwitz, Lori Horhor, Kyungie Sung, and Kayla Li
AMWA Executive Director: Dr. Eliza Lo Chin

Want to join us?  Contact

“Variations on a Theme”

by Karen Poirier-Brode, MD – AMWA Artist-in-Residence 2020-2021



For the Physician

Music in Medical Institutions and Medical Education


Voices of Rock
(click to view video)
Suzie Brown
(click to view video)
North American Medical Orchestra
(click to view video)

Physicians as Musicians


“Our musical training helps us to listen, not just hear, and to recognize that there is a song in every diagnosis.”

— Lisa Wong, MD (Scales to Scalpels)

For the Patient

Music as Therapy

“Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”
American Music Therapy Association

The American Music Therapy Association provides a series of fact sheets that discuss the use of music therapy among different populations.

In medicine, music therapy has been shown to be beneficial in the following situations:


  • Recorded music greatly improved geriatric patients’ appropriate behavior, personal appearance, and orientation to reality (Riegler, 1980)


  • Live guitar instruction significantly increased peer acceptance and group cohesiveness among female psychiatric patients when compared to a no-music condition. (Cassity, 1976)

Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Music therapy interventions may elicit joint attention (Kalas, 2012); enhance auditory processing, other sensory-motor, perceptual/motor, or gross/fine motor skills (LaGasse & Hardy, 2013); and identify and appropriately express emotions (Katagiri, 2009).


  • Music may have a positive impact on pain and distress for children undergoing intravenous placement in pediatric emergency (Hartling et al., 2013).
  • A review of recent literature reports that music therapy can be considered a safe and generally well-accepted intervention in pediatric health care to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life (Stegemann et al., 2019).
    Weekly music therapy sessions improves pulmonary function and reduces hospitalizations per patient-year in pediatric asthma patients (Loewy et al., 2020)

Neonatal Intensive Care

  • A study of 33 premature infants in the NICU who listened to the sung and spoken lullabies left the unit nearly 3 days sooner than their counterparts in the control group. (Coleman, 1994)



  • 4 months of musical instrument training enhanced cognitive abilities relating to attention, processing speed, and motor function and psychological well-being in older adults (60-80 yrs old) (Seinfeld, 2013).


  • Music and Memory
  • An April 2018 study reports that “objective evidence from brain imaging shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.” The research, published by a team at University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.


  • Music interventions led to significant decrease in cortisol levels providing evidence that listening to music while resting in bed after open heart surgery leads to stress reduction (Nilsson, 2009).
  • Patients undergoing general anesthesia were more stable with calmer recovery and satisfaction rates following music intervention (Kahloul et al, 2017).

In Hospital Waiting Rooms

  • “Music Outreach in Healthcare Settings” is a class that was created out of a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Medical School and the School of Music in the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts. Music students play in clinic waiting rooms and the impact has been amazing. Read more HERE


  • A 2016 systematic review concludes that music interventions may have a beneficial effect on anxiety and depression in people with cancer with small reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure (Bradt et al., 2016)
  • A study of 60 participants reports that three sessions of music therapy significantly reduced the anxiety levels of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (Latif et al., 2020)

Palliative Care

  • A study of 84 patients revealed that music therapy during palliative care was effective at promoting relaxation and led to significant reductions in fatigue (Warth et al., 2015).

Does music have an impact at the cellular level?

A small study from Ohio State University using different types of music suggested that sound might an effect on the growth of neoplastic and normal human cells in vitro (Sharma, 1996). Another study suggested that music may “alter cellular morpho-functional parameters…in cultured cells” (Lestard, 2016).


Bradt J, Dileo C, Magill L, Teague A. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD006911.

Cassity, M.D. (1976). The influence of music therapy activity on peer acceptance, group cohesiveness, and interpersonal relationships of female psychiatric patients. Journal of Music Therapy, 13(2), 66-76

Coleman JM, Pratt RR, Stoddard, RA, Gerstmann D, & Abel H-H (1994). The effects of the male and female singing voices on selected physiological and behavioral measures of premature infants in the intensive care unity. IJAM 5(2): 4-11.

Hartling L, Newton AS, Liang Y, et al. (2013). Music to Reduce Pain and Distress in the Pediatric Emergency Department: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatr. ;167(9):826–835.

Kahloul, M., Mhamdi, S., Nakhli, M. S., Sfeyhi, A. N., Azzaza, M., Chaouch, A., & Naija, W. (2017). Effects of music therapy under general anesthesia in patients undergoing abdominal surgery. The Libyan journal of medicine, 12(1), 1260886.

Kalas, A. (2012). Joint attention responses of children with autism spectrum disorder to simple versus complex music. Journal of Music Therapy 49(4), 430-452.

Katagiri, J. (2009). The effect of background music and song texts on the emotional understanding of children with autism. Journal of Music Therapy, 46(1), 15-31.

LaGasse, A. B. & Hardy, M. W. (2013). Considering rhythm for sensorimotor regulation in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 31(1). 67-77.

Latif, A. I., Alhidayat, N. S., Putra, S. H., Erika, K. A., Ningrat, S., & Syahrul, S. (2020). Effectiveness of music therapy in reducing the level of anxiety among cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Enfermeria Clinica, 30 Suppl 2, 304–307.

Lestard, Nathalia & Capella, Márcia. (2016). Exposure to Music Alters Cell Viability and Cell Motility of Human Nonauditory Cells in Culture. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016. 1-7. 10.1155/2016/6849473.

Loewy J, Goldsmith C, Deshpande S, Sun A, Harris J, van Es C, Ben- Zvi Z & Dahmer S (2020) Music therapy in pediatric asthma improves pulmonary function while reducing hospitalizations, Journal of Asthma.

Nilsson, U. The effect of music intervention in stress response to cardiac surgery in a randomized clinical trial. Heart & Lung, Volume 38, Issue 3, 2009, Pages 201-207.

Riegler, J. (1980). Comparison of a reality orientation program for geriatric patients with and without music. Journal of Music Therapy, 17(3), 26-3.

Seinfeld, S., Figueroa, H., Ortiz-Gil, J., & Sanchez-Vives, M. (2013). Effects of music learning and piano practice on cognitive function, mood and quality of life in older adults. Frontiers in Psychology.

Sharma HM, Kauffman EM, & Stephens RE (1996). Effect of different sounds on growth of human cancer cell lines in vitro. Altern Ther Clin Pract 3(4):25-32.

Stegemann, T., Geretsegger, M., Phan Quoc, E., Riedl, H., & Smetana, M. (2019). Music Therapy and Other Music-Based Interventions in Pediatric Health Care: An Overview. Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), 6(1), 25.

Warth, M., Keßler, J., Hillecke, T. K., & Bardenheuer, H. J. (2015). Music Therapy in Palliative Care. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 112(46), 788–794.

For the Musician

Performing Arts Medicine

Performing arts medicine is a subspecialty that grew from Occupational Medicine in the late 20th century. This field addresses injuries and the prevention of injuries in performing artists (musicians, dancers, actors, etc.)

A 1987 survey of musicians found that 82% of musicians experienced a medical problem, either physical or psychological with 76% of musicians having a medical problem that interfered with their work.

  • Performing arts related injuries were first reported in Occupational Medicine literature and later in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Performing arts related medical issues range from pain in performance to neuro-muscular dysfunction or psychological problems related to performance.
  • Performing arts medicine began to take an organizational shape in the 1980s, with the first annual symposium on the topic in 1983, at the request of the Aspen Music Festival. (Bronfonbrener, 2018)
  • The Performing Arts Medicine Association was founded in 1988 (PAMA, 2018) and the first professional journal dedicated to Performing Arts Medicine was established in 1986 and titled Medical Problems in Performing Artists. (Pubmed indexing began in 2010).
  • In 2015, the organization began to provide pre-conference certification courses for Performing Arts Medicine. To this day, however, no formal pathway exists for specialization.

“About”. Performing Arts Medicine Association. Performing Arts Medicine Association. Retrieved 20 Jun 2018.

“Alice Brandfonbrener, M.D.” Local Legends: Celebrating America’s Local Women Physicians. United States National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 20 Jun 2018.

Gallery of Music

“Courage Is A Woman”
Words and music by Sarah Partridge.

Listen to the recording

On a cool September day in western Oregon,
I roamed a cemetery looking for her grave.
A modest marker bore her name,
And was hidden in the shade.
A shocking contrast to the legacy she’d made.

In a time that is alive only in history,
There is a girl who lives a life like you and me.
But her dreams reach far and wide.
She pursues them all with pride.
A loving doctor is the first life she would lead.

But there was more to come, so much more..
So many lives she lived and saved in scores.
There was love and joy and pain…
But she fought the fight and won the game.

While the politics of health lay in the voting man,
A woman’s say was not enough to make a change.
Her little boy had died in vain.
Empowered women seized the day.
Her coalitions marched ahead and paved the way.

Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League was hers to claim.
Free from cliques and class distinctions, meant for all.
Local grievances were aired.
Granting suffrage was impaired.
But in the end these acts of courage were absolved.

A major barrier to health was inequality.
The instability of life beyond our shores.
Refugees in need of care,
Disease and suffering everywhere.
Her social justice was an answer to the wars.

She lived her life forever challenging society.
Humanitarian for women of the world.
Her civic policies were bold,
A broader vision would unfold..
Nearly a century of change that still unfurls.

Last tag line after “But she fought the fight and won the game
…Tell our children to remember her name.”

Song about Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, commissioned by the American Medical Women’s Association.

Sarah Partridge has also composed an album and tour of musical portraits of Women in STEM titled “Portraits of Wisdom“.

Physicians Healers
Dr. Mary C. Rorro (composer)
Richard Walsh (arranger)
June 20, 2019

Doctors of the world, united
leaders of our dream, inspired
shining a bright light, we’re guiding
and transforming

Physicians, Healers
Women, Dreamers
sharing our vision
we can heal the world

Physicians, Healers
Women, Dreamers
sharing our mission
we will heal the world

Commissioned by AMWA for the Centennial Congress of the Medical Women’s International Association.

Share Your Music

Submit Your Music for Consideration
Dr. Lisa Wong, Assistant Co-Director of the Harvard Arts and Humanities Initiative and AMWA Music and Medicine committee member, speaks about her innovative music program for COVID-19 patients at Boston Hope Hospital . Prescribing “music doses” for patients through various times of day, she and her team of volunteer musicians, bring the healing power of music to those in recovery from COVID-19. She also plays “Tomorrow” with her family, and features a hauntingly beautiful musical postcard by Silk Road artist Wu Tong.
Watch the All Together Now show, moderated by Bobbie Steinbach on Youtube