Pivoting and Thriving: The Royal Melbourne Hospital Music Therapy Response in 2020

Dr Emma O’Brien1, Mr John Bedggood1, Ms Anita Ayling1

1The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville, Australia

In 2020 the Music Therapy (MT) team at The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) had one of its busiest years since its inception in 1998.  As the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding internationally, RMH was preparing for the worst. MT was required to 1) expand its clinical service due to a significant rise in referrals across the hospital resulting in a fourfold increase in referrals above our standard service provision, which doubled again by the end of 2020 and to 2) focus on supporting healthcare workers’ wellbeing across the entire organisation. This presentation describes our risk mitigation protocols we enacted to enable us to continue providing live music in a public hospital setting and the evolution of RMH Scrub Choir, an in-house MT clinician lead virtual choir with music video projects to support our healthcare colleagues by connecting in a virtual community of singing and playing. We will include video excerpts from live music provision, telehealth snap shots, and RMH Scrub Choir behind the scenes. “Here, music is (was) used as a social glue to boost staff morale, foster a sense of engagement and create a message of hope.” (p. 308, Sutu & O’Brien 2020)

Sutu, B., & O’Brien, E. (2021). Music as Medicine: A Way to Buoy Staff Morale in the Age of   Covid-19. Internal Medicine Journal, 51(2) 308.


Dr Emma O’Brien OAM is a music therapist, singer, performer, composer and researcher. Emma founded the ongoing music therapy service at The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) in 1998. Emma specializes in song writing with individuals and communities and created her own specialized song writing protocol (Guided Original Lyrics and Music). In 2020, Emma created The Royal Melbourne Hospital Scrub Choir; a virtual choir composed of staff from all departments at RMH.

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