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Better together: Nursing, Gifts of Arts bring music, comfort to the bedside

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For many patients, a hospital stay can be an anxious and challenging time. That’s especially true during COVID-19, with changes to visitor policies and other safety measures that have been put into place.

To help relieve that stress, faculty and staff have turned to virtual methods to ensure patients get what they need when they need it.

And some of those methods have certainly been music to the ears of patients and caregivers.

Hitting the right notes

For the past two months, Gifts of Art and Nursing at Michigan have teamed up with outside nonprofit Project: Music Heals Us (PMHU) to provide one-on-one piano and violin concerts for patients over Zoom. Many of those who benefit are critically ill with COVID-19 or other ailments.

“Our nurses go into patient rooms with a personal device which allows them to watch a concert without having to leave their bed,” said Jennifer Siev, clinical nurse supervisor for the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, where many of the concerts are streamed. “Often, we can immediately see the emotional response to the concerts on our patients’ faces.”

In fact, there’s more than just an emotional response to the music. Music has been shown to physically help patients in distress, as well.

“Anecdotal evidence from the medical staff overseeing the program in the units has already attested to the calming and stabilizing effects these concerts are having on patients,” said Elaine Sims, director of Gifts of Art, which has been providing music and art visits at Michigan Medicine for more than 20 years.

Sims added that beyond the anecdotal evidence, there is vast research that highlights the positive effects of music.

“Music not only affects the parts of the brain that control emotions, it also affects a broad spectrum of brain activity including movement, language, memory, etc.,” Sims said. “As a result, the arts calm and comfort — alleviating stress, and helping retain a sense of security and self which is critical in healing.”

‘A natural partnership’

A musician plays for a patient on an iPad at their bedside.

So how did a national nonprofit such as PMHU find its way to Michigan Medicine?

One of the program’s violinists, Jocelyn Zhu, is a student of Julliard School of Music professor Catherine Cho. Cho’s father, Kyung Cho, M.D., was the William Martel Collegiate Professor of Radiology at Michigan Medicine before retiring in 2014.

“It was a natural partnership,” said Sims. “PMHU had already been working with other major academic medical centers across the country, and knew that they could make an impact working with patients during the pandemic. So they reached out and Carrie McClintock (Gifts of Art communications coordinator) and I immediately went to work to make it happen.”

Working with nursing seemed a natural next step. So Gifts of Art reached out to Nursing Information Services, who put her in touch with Siev in the SICU.

“We have been limiting who enters patient rooms for the safety of staff, volunteers and patients,” said Siev. “And our nursing teams are always looking for creative ways to enhance the patient and workplace experience during COVID-19.”

A number of SICU nurses have participated in the program.

“Because many of the patients are in Special Pathogens Precautions, we typically have the nurses who are already gowned up take the device into a room,” Siev said. She said among the many of nurses who have helped facilitate the concerts are Mary Gagnon, Stefanie Gallardo, Colleen May and Ryan Monimee.

Decades of tradition

The virtual concerts are an extension of the Gifts of Art bedside music program, which began more than two decades ago.

Certified music practitioners provide bedside music in most patient units, intensive care units, dialysis, trauma burn and pre- and post-surgery areas.

“All of our music practitioners have artistry, proficiency and training to safely navigate health care environments for the purpose of positive creative experiences that enhance overall well-being,” Sims said.

Their role differs from music therapy in scope of practice, in that music therapists are clinicians and trained to help patients work toward specific goals.

“In the end, however, both music therapists and bedside musicians create a comforting atmosphere and one in which patients will have better outcomes,” Sims said.

That’s the goal of Gifts of Art — and the nursing staff who have worked with them in recent months.

“For a few minutes at a time, we’re able to bring a smile to the faces of our patients during some of the most difficult times of their life,” Siev said. “At the same time, it also provides comfort to our health care workers. Being in PPE all day and listening to the beeps of monitors and other equipment can be very isolating. So this is a connection to the outside world, and it’s really refreshing.

“The music is a unique service and shows that nursing — and Michigan Medicine — cares about more than just medical care. We’re here to provide a holistic approach to healing.”

This story was originally published by Michigan Medicine.

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