Music for Waiting Rooms

By Jessica Duckworth

I am a final year medical student at the University of Manchester, whilst also being a keen musician and composer. I have always been fascinated in the effects of music on both the body and the mind, which led me to pursue this project integrating music and healthcare. This project was part of the Medical Humanities MSc at The University of Manchester.

The Waiting Room

Nobody thinks much about the waiting room, including those who sit and wait. But in fact, a waiting room often contains an amazing concentration of the full spectrum of human emotion, ranging from bone-numbing boredom to acute anxiety[1]


Sitting in a medical waiting room is an accepted part of visiting a doctor. Waiting is an ingrained part of daily human life in the Western world. Whether this is waiting for public transport, waiting in traffic, waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting in a queue, or waiting for an appointment, it is ubiquitous in modern society. In terms of the medical waiting room, it is uncommon to attend a hospital or GP surgery without spending at least a few minutes waiting, often longer.

Medical waiting rooms are often uncomfortable, anxiety-filled spaces with little to stimulate or preoccupy patients’ minds other than medical posters littering the walls. The aim of my project, Music in the Waiting Room, was to fill this empty ‘space’ of the waiting room with music, with the intention of encouraging a calm and relaxing environment, positively distracting patients from their medical anxieties.

Anxiety has been associated with negative health outcomes, including slower recovery times, decreased pain thresholds and resistance to treatment.[2] In order to provide patient-centred care, one must consider the entire patient experience, not confining the care solely to the consultation room. Therefore, it is vital to consider the waiting room experience, and ways in which it can be optimised to encourage a relaxing and anxiety-relieving environment.

Research has provided evidence for the stress-relieving effects of music. Several studies have found that listening to music leads to reduced levels of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’, explaining the relaxing impact of ‘calming’ music.[3],[4] This project intended to use these stress-relieving effects of music to improve the patient experience of the waiting room.

The Project: Music in the Waiting Room

The project was part of my masters degree in Medical Humanities. I composed an album of music called ‘Music in the Waiting Room’. This included a selection of calming electronic ambient music and piano music. You can listen to this music by clicking on the links below:

WordCloudResearch was performed during the composition process of the album to explore the type of music that the public generally found relaxing and would like to hear in a waiting room. The word cloud displays the described responses.

Upon further research, it emerged that people generally preferred piano music to electronically generated music, which assisted in guiding the composition.

Results: Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Study

WaitingRoom1My album of music was installed in the fracture clinic waiting room at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, supported by the Arts charity Chelsea and Westminster Plus.

PieChart1The impact of the music was measured by evaluation questionnaires with patients in the waiting room. A total of 30 patients completed questionnaires

Patients were asked: ‘What do you think to the music playing in the waiting room?’ Results were positive, with 96% stating that they either like it or don’t mind (see pie chart).

When questioned about how patients were feeling while sitting in the waiting room with music, all but one patient reported positive feelings. The most frequently reported feeling in the waiting room was ‘calm’, closely followed by ‘at ease’ and ‘relaxed’. These were the feelings that I was aiming to capture and enhance in the waiting room via the music.

Patients were then asked how strongly they agreed/disagreed with the following statement: ‘music in the waiting room creates a relaxing environment’. Results were overwhelmingly positive, with 87% of patients selecting ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’, suggesting that the majority find music relaxing in the waiting room.

BarChart3Finally, patients were asked to what extent they agreed with the following statement: ‘I like to have music in the background in a waiting room’. Again, results were positive, with 90% of patients choosing either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’, and 10% were undecided. No patients voted for ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’, revealing that music was preferred by the majority of patients in this waiting room.

Written feedback from patients on their thoughts of the music in the waiting room are displayed below.


Waiting rooms are not often considered pleasant places to be in, yet they are a key component of the overall patient experience. If we can help the way patients feel in the waiting room, we can have a positive impact on their overall experience. Patients can enter the consultation room feeling less stressed, with a clearer mind, ready to take in information from the healthcare professional.

Results from this study at Chelsea and Westminster hospital suggest that music in the waiting room does encourage a more relaxing, calming environment, hence providing a more positive patient healthcare experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience of undertaking this project. It provided me with the opportunity to combine my two passions in life: music and medicine, whilst making a positive impact on the patient experience of healthcare.


[1] Ian Cameron, “What’s Happening In Your Waiting Room?”, Canadian Family Physician, 64 (2018): 378.

[2] Elaine Biddiss, Tara Joy Knibbe and Amy McPherson, “The Effectiveness Of Interventions Aimed At Reducing Anxiety In Health Care Waiting Spaces”, Anesthesia & Analgesia, 119 (2014): 433

[3] Alexandra Linnemann, Jana Strahler and Urs M. Nater, “Assessing The Effects Of Music Listening On Psychobiological Stress In Daily Life”, Journal Of Visualized Experiments, 120 (2017)

[4] Barbara Miluk-Kolasa et al., “Effects Of Music Treatment On Salivary Cortisol In Patients Exposed To Pre-Surgical Stress”, Experimental And Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes, 102 (2009): 118.

Copyright for Text, Music and Images: Jessica Duckworth 2018
Find out more about Jess’s creative journey in her online journal


Trauma and Repair: A Medical Humanities Laboratory Workshop

Organised by the Medical Humanities Laboratory at the University of Manchester, thanks to the sponsorship of the John Rylands Research Institute.

1 pm – 4:45 pm, Friday, 9 March, Council Chambers, Whitworth Building, University of Manchester.

This workshop brings together speakers and practitioners from several different disciplines – anthropology, history of medicine, visual culture studies, cultural history, and art—to consider the bodily, medical, and cultural meanings of trauma and repair. Together we will think about and discuss where the experience of injury, especially to the face, and the practices of surgery intersect and interact.

Our first session includes presentations by an anthropologist, an artist, and a historian of medicine who all work on faces, trauma, and medicine. After a coffee break, our second session will feature keynote speaker Dr Suzannah Biernoff, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Visual Culture at Birkbeck and author of the recent Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement, followed by a broad collective discussion of the afternoon’s presentations and themes.

We particularly encourage postgrads and early career researchers to attend. An archivist from the University of Manchester Library will be available to discuss recently catalogued holdings of interest to medical humanities scholars, teachers, and practitioners.

The event is free to all, but please register your attendance by clicking on this link, where a map and more detailed programme will be available.

Workshop schedule:

1 pm: Registration and arrival

1:15 pm:
Welcome and introductions
Dr Elizabeth Toon

1:20 pm:
Trauma, repair, transgression and transformation: Living with facial ‘disfigurement’
Dr Anne-Marie Martindale

1:50 pm:
Facing out: A portraiture project exploring facial cancer and the gaze
Lucy Burscough

2:20 pm
Between trauma and repair: The surgical operation in Dorothy Davison’s medical illustrations
Dr Harriet Palfreyman

2:50 pm:
Tea/coffee break

3:15 pm
Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck)
Keynote: Facelessness in Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage

4 pm
General discussion
Led by Prof Ana Carden-Coyne

Please register at:

NHS @ 70 – performance, exhibition and film

NHS at 70 is at the Whitworth, from 1 to 3 March 2018, and the project team hope you’ll be able to join them for some or all of the events.

If you want to come to the film premiere please book through the Eventbrite link below or our website as spaces are filling up fast.

Thursday 1 March, 6.00-8.30pm

The premiere of our new film, ‘Voices from the first NHS hospital‘ which will be followed by a Q and A with project director, Dr Stephanie Snow and the film participants.

Please click here to book for the film premiere.

This event will showcase the work NHS at 70 has been doing during the development phase of the Heritage Lottery Funded project and celebrate the contributions of both volunteers and the people who have shared their stories through oral histories and community reporting in Greater Manchester and South Wales.

Friday 2 and Saturday 3 March

Drop-in, interactive performances will bring NHS stories to life. Devised and performed by Herizons creative women’s group, led by enJOY arts and singer-songwriter, Claire Mooney.

Students on the University of Manchester’s MA in Art Galleries and Museum Studies will showcase their NHS stories curated using objects from the University’s Museum of Medicine and Health.

Friends and family welcome!

Download the poster (PDF)

Whittingham Lives Study Day

Hidden Histories: Alternative Futures


Thursday 12th October 2017
10:30 – 18:00
53 Degrees, UCLAN
Brook St

A thought-provoking day exploring the hidden histories of mental health care through the lens of Whittingham Asylum in Preston, Lancashire (1873–2016), once the largest mental health institution in Europe.

Heritage and medical humanities experts, mental health survivor groups and artists will share their current research and creative responses to the archival heritage of Whittingham. The study day will also showcase alternative ways of taking ownership and representing mental health history to uncover positive and alternative futures for those using services today.

10.30am–12pm Arts & Heritage interactive workshops limited places, booking essential:

1pm–6pm Study Day

For more information please visit

To book the event:

Whittingham Lives are grateful for the support of:

The Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, UNISON, Music & The Mind, The Friends of Lancashire Archives and our key partners UCLAN, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and Lancashire Archives for funding and supporting this event.


Grant opportunities in Medical Humanities: a Q&A and advice session

Friday, 19 May 2017, 2 pm – 3 pm
University of Manchester, Simon Building, Room 2.57

Calling researchers and practitioners interested in the intersections of humanities, arts, biomedicine, health care, and the life sciences!

The Medical Humanities Laboratory invites you to a funding advice session.

Dr Dan O’Connor from the Wellcome Trust’s Humanities and Social Sciences Division will be discussing and answering questions about the Trust’s funding schemes.   An experienced university grant writer will also be available to give advice on planning and putting together successful applications.

Everyone is welcome, and early career researchers are especially encouraged to join us.

Tea and coffee provided from 1:45 pm for a 2 pm start.

RSVP and further details

Talk: Objects of Healing – nursing technologies of the First World War

Thursday, 18 May 2017, 5:30pm – 7pm
Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL


Christine Hallett, Professor of Nursing History at the University of Manchester and President of the European Association for the History of Nursing will use objects from the Museum of Medicine and Health to examine and highlight some of the most important tools and technologies used by nurses to heal the wounds sustained by combatants on the battlefields of the First World War. This talk will focus, in particular, on the use of Carrel Dakin wound irrigation technique – a method for delivering the powerful antiseptic, sodium hypochlorite, into deep, infected combat wounds.

This event is open to all, for all backgrounds and ages and no prior knowledge assumed.

Register here

The Art of Healthcare

screenshot-2017-02-08-17-53-29Book now for the Art of Healthcare in Salford and Manchester,  a series of events and workshops open to everyone and available for free to healthcare professionals. The programme offers the opportunity to develop or refresh skills that are directly applicable to clinical practice, and to be part of a conversation about how the arts can contribute to good healthcare. Join us for a workshop on Leadership & Teamwork, or a practical session on photography and medicine.

To see the full programme, please visit:

Art of Healthcare will be presented for the first time in Salford & Manchester, delivered in partnership with The Lowry, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, the Doubleday Centre for Patient Experience at The University of Manchester, and the Whitworth.