Chances are, we’ve all spent some time in the hospital waiting room – whether it’s for ourselves or someone else. Maybe it was for a trip to the emergency department, a routine ultrasound, a dreaded procedure, or a visit to a family member.
Regardless of the reason, many hospitals don’t readily offer the most enjoyable experience. When you’re already nervous or worried (for yourself or others), spending time in an unpleasant environment isn’t our number one pick of places we’d like to be.
In my current studies as a student of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Community Music masters degree, I’m exploring the connection between music and wellness—specifically that in the hospital environment. By default, hospitals are relatively uninviting. The white, drab walls; the noise of the staff, patients, and medical equipment; and the fast-paced atmosphere aren’t exactly on par with relaxation and repose.
Though there are great things happening across the globe, there’s plenty of opportunity to invite more of the arts into hospitals. In addition to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Music and Wellness initiatives, many places are adopting programming using high-quality arts methods to complement (and reinforce) high-quality care. Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida, for example, built the environment of its hospital based on principles of design and aesthetics, and it has a variety of arts programs for bettering health; the Carnegie Hall Musical Connections program reaches many local hospitals, including the Jacobi Medical Center, where teaching artists provide songwriting residencies and perform live music. Cleveland Clinic has an Arts & Medicine Institute that uses theatre, music, art, and other art forms in events, therapy, and more, including regular, live music in lobbies throughout the hospital. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra performs at local healthcare facilities for patients and families in waiting rooms through its Music & Wellness program (and many other symphonies, such as the San Angelo Symphony and Phoenix Symphony, do the same). As knowledge grows, more and more healthcare facilities are getting on board (see: Stanford Health Care, Holland Bloorview), and a growing list of museums and art galleries are developing programs.
Unfortunately, bringing the arts into these facilities isn’t standard practice. While many hospitals include some form of artwork, occasionally a grand piano (intermittently played), and music or art therapy, it’s often limited to specific populations or areas throughout the medical centre.
These opportunities should be available to everyone—patients, staff, visitors, and even community members—to open local hospitals as a key component of cultural services in their region. This doesn’t mean that each location needs to have extensive programming, but each location should have minimally ongoing initiatives to help connect the arts to the wellness experience.
There are so many ways to transform the waiting experience through the arts, including live or streaming music, outdoor gardens, apps and interactive art, visual artwork, interaction with artists, etc. The research on this is extensive.
As I work to complete my MA degree, my research area will focus on the feasibility of creating an arts-based wellness program in the hospital environment, with my particular interest in waiting rooms. Over the course of the next months, I’ll document my status on the PSO blog so you can hear where I am in my research and pilot project, as well as the successes and snags along the way.