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

Database of interests and projects

We launched the Medical Humanities Laboratory last year to create an interdisciplinary virtual home for interests and activities in the arts and humanities focusing on issues related to health and medicine in Manchester and the North-West – in research, teaching, writing, art, performance, public engagement, and other related fields.

We have since held a number of events aimed to showcase such activities, and to network and get to know each other.

We have also featured activities that some of us are engaged with on this website.

The ultimate purpose all this is to facilitate future collaborations, ideally leading to a big collaborative funding bid. In order to prepare for such collaborative projects, we are planning to set up a simple database, enabling those of us thinking about funding applications or other collaborative activities to find potential partners with related or complementary interests.

Would you like to be included? Then please fill in this simple MS Word questionnaire:

This should not take you longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Completed questionnaires should be emailed to Dr Marion Endt-Jones:

Mind Music

Northern Chamber Orchestra charity concert nco-parkinson-image

Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall
Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama
3 April 2016

Several members of our Medical Humanities Laboratory have been involved in this exciting project.

Book your tickets now! And let others know.

Conductor Stephen Barlow and the Northern Chamber Orchestra explore pieces related to neurodegenerative disease.

John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons reflects his father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s as does Kevin Malone’s Last Memory. The two solo clarinettists both recently lost a parent to Parkinson’s. Strauss’s poignant Serenade From an Invalid’s Workshop speaks for itself.

The concert will raise awareness of these issues. Proceeds will go to the charity Parkinson’s UK.


  • Aaron Copland: Appalacian Spring
  • John Adams: Gnarly Buttons
  • Kevin Malone: The Last Memory
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Konzertstueck No 1
  • Richard Strauss: Sonatine No 1 ‘From an Invalid’s Workshop’

To book please visit  or phone the Martin Harris Centre Box Office.

Price: £15 / £7

Box Office:
0161 275 8951


What doesn’t kill us …

A collaborative exploration of identity and trauma


Manchester, 9-12 March 2016


Speakers, artists and contributors include Lemn Sissay MBE, Prof. Anthony Redmond OBE, Kim Noble, Bryony Kimmings, Hetain Patel, Prof. James Thompson, Quarantine, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Das Arts (Amsterdam), Disability Arts Online, Prof. Jackie Stacy, Prof. Bobbie Farsides, Prof. Michael Brady, Prof. Matthew Cobb and Prof. Alex Sharpe with many more to follow.

The challenges of life and death may not make us stronger, but they certainly make us who we are. SICK! Lab explores the most challenging experiences that we live through and die from. These challenges are sometimes rooted in bodies and minds that fail us, sometimes in the complexities of living in an imperfect society with other imperfect individuals. From the difficulties of our daily lives to the experience of global traumas of conflict and displacement, how do our personal battles write themselves across our minds and bodies?

SICK! Lab is a focussed 4-day programme of performances, presentations and discussions bringing together artists, academics from a wide range of disciplines, clinicians, commentators and the public to explore questions connecting identity and trauma: Why do we find it so hard to be alone in our minds? What do we gain from and lose to our social groups? Who do we chose to be the objects of our compassion? How much are we still defined by all those traditional categories: Religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, disability?

Download the programme (pdf)

SICK! Lab 2016 generates discussion between widely differing perspectives and will inform the development of SICK! Festival March 2017. SICK! Festival confronts the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death, and how we survive them. Taking place in Brighton and Manchester, the festival brings together an outstanding international arts programme with perspectives from academic research, clinical practitioners, public health, charities and people with lived experience of the issues we address. SICK! Festival won the prestigious EFFE Festivals Award 2015/16 for excellence and innovation.

Tim Harrison
Director of Development

SICK! Festival
European EFFE Award Winner
Manchester and Brighton
T: +44 1273 699 733
M: +44 7868300065
Twitter @SICKFestival
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