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Just what the doctor ordered
Music therapy students ease stress at O'Bleness

July 19, 2007
By Tom Bosco

As Michael McGaughy set up his music stand and unpacked his guitar in the lobby of Athens' O'Bleness Memorial Hospital, Chris Bartlett started fidgeting.

Michael McGaughy and Tracy Gillespie play for visitors to O'Bleness Memorial Hospital. Photo by Rick Fatica"It looks like we're going to have some music. Surely not!" she said, somewhat aghast at the thought of live music in a hospital. But that's exactly what O'Bleness and Ohio University ordered. 

As part of a research project, McGaughy and other undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Music's Music Therapy Program are partnering with the hospital to provide a two-hour dose of music twice a week in the waiting areas of the main lobby and emergency room. Each performance is followed by an audience survey. 

The students' work is part of a study to determine whether the addition of live music in hospital waiting areas affects adult patient or visitor satisfaction with the overall hospital visit and time spent in the waiting area. Participating students are enrolled in a required practicum course and throughout the first summer session, which concludes this week, will have provided more than 50 hours of service to O'Bleness under the supervision of their professors.

Associate Professor Louise Steele, chair of the Music Therapy Program, said there is no other study she knows of in the nation gauging the effect of music in the waiting areas of hospitals. Steele sees the research as part of something that sets Ohio University's Music Therapy Program apart.

"The fact that we have undergraduates being given a practicum experience in a medical setting is very rare," she said. "Usually this level of experience is not seen until the master's degree level."

Steele said she expects results of the survey to be known by late fall quarter. In the meantime, music therapy sessions in other areas of the hospital are being planned.

The students play whatever audience members request. In one session, selections ranged from Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" to "Amazing Grace" to Billy Joel's "Piano Man." 

"Usually we start playing and they are like, 'Oh, I know that song,'" said Tracy Gillespie, a senior from Chicago. Gillespie said she plays a lot of classic rock from the 1960s and ?70s. 

The music's familiarity was part of what won Bartlett over. As she listened to McGaughy play, she not only stopped fidgeting, she began to let go of some stress and worry she'd been experiencing because her mother was in the ICU upstairs.

"It helped the time pass, and he played music that I knew," Bartlett said. "It helped take my mind off why I'm here."

Michael McGaughy plays for a trio of young music lovers in the O'Bleness Hospital lobby. Photo courtesy of O'Bleness Memorial Hospital. Gillespie said visitors' reactions exceeded her expectations. "People were much more receptive to it than I expected them to be," she said. "We've had a lot of people come up to us and tell us how wonderful they thought it was to have music here."

McGaughy said his best encounter yet through the program was with three young children who came to the hospital to see their ailing mother.

"I put down the xylophones and drums, and these three little kids just came up and started playing with the instruments," he recounted. "I didn't even have to invite them."

McGaughy led them through activities and games with the instruments and was able to see their attitudes change.

"It was one of the first times I was able to use my music experiences and abilities to help children deal with what is typically a confusing and stressful hospital environment ... and let them have some fun," said McGaughy, who has an Ohio University bachelor's degree in music performance and now is pursuing a second undergraduate degree in music therapy.

"Every day is pretty good when you're able to alleviate someone of any stresses they may have coming into this place," he said.

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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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