This year marks the 25th anniversary of Park Nicollet’s Music Therapy Internship Program. The program started three years after Dawn Miller, current Music Therapy Internship Program Manager, brought the idea of music therapy and began the first Music Therapy program at Park Nicollet in 1995. “People at Park Nicollet had not heard of music therapy, but once they saw it in action, they were on board,” Dawn said.

First introduced after World War II to help returning soldiers overcome shell shock, volunteer hospital musicians found they were able to help service members communicate their thoughts through music. Over the years, the field of music therapy developed clinical studies which have proven that music therapy sessions help patients reduce stress and improve mood and self-expression by listening, singing, playing instruments or composing music.

Patients with a variety of illnesses and health issues across the Park Nicollet health care system – as well as home-care hospice patients – all experience the benefits of music therapy. According to Dawn, “The philosophy of Park Nicollet’s Music Therapy program is that music taps into the healthy part of the person … and reminds them that they are a person, not just a diagnosis. Music therapy helps patients to feel supported during their hospital stay or treatment experience. It’s a wonderful example of Park Nicollet’s culture of Head+Heart together. I see it every day, music therapy allows a patient to breathe, to relax and to ease their anxiety as they go through treatments for their illness,” Dawn stated.

Ingrid Miera, a past cancer patient at the Frauenshuh Cancer Center, is just one example of how music therapy can really make a difference in a patient’s life. Like most people, Ingrid was in shock when she was diagnosed. She was struggling emotionally and had never felt anxiety or fear in the past like she had when the doctors discovered her cancer. “I was a mess. My nurse asked if I’d heard about music therapy treatments for my anxiety. I said no, not really, but I sure was willing to try anything to help me,” said Ingrid. “I liked my first session right away. It was a really good fit for me and helped me reduce my stress through all my treatments over a three-year period.”

Helping a patient cope with stress isn’t the only benefit of music therapy. Therapy sessions can have a positive outcome for rehab patients by improving their motor skills. There are no charges to patients to receive music therapy, and music therapy sessions are not covered by third-party insurance. Park Nicollet’s Music Therapy Internship Program is supported by donations and grants to the Park Nicollet Foundation, which are used to repair and replace instruments, add state-of-the-art technologies and fund stipends for interns.

Park Nicollet’s Music Therapy Internship Program 25 years of growth

The continued growth of the Music Therapy Internship Program is mainly due to the work of a passionate and dedicated music therapy staff and ongoing interest in music therapy from patients and Park Nicollet team members. This interest and dedication to music therapy was key in fostering an internship program in 1998 under the guidelines of the American Music Therapy Association. Since then, the Music Therapy Internship Program has hosted internships for music therapy students, which leads to a music therapy board certification credential. Through the six-month program, interns are able to provide invaluable support and healing to patients and family members. To date, 166 interns from college and university programs across the country and throughout the world have completed their internships at Park Nicollet and have gone on to successful and rewarding careers. Park Nicollet’s internship program is recognized as one of the premier programs in the country.

From the beginning of the program, Struthers Parkinson’s Center has been one of the core facilities of the intern experience. Interns also gain hands-on experience throughout other Park Nicollet facilities, including in-patient hospital sessions and visits with patients at Melrose Center in St. Louis Park.

Mary S. Adamek, PhD, Emeritus Music Therapy Professor at the University of Iowa, highly recommends Park Nicollet’s Music Therapy Internship Program to her students. “Park Nicollet’s internship program has a national reputation for being one of the best in the country. Any music therapy student who is chosen to intern at Park Nicollet will emerge as a highly skilled entry-level music therapist, ready to make a difference in the lives of their patients and families,” said Dr. Adamek.

“By having a top-notch program, we’re able to attract highly qualified candidates,” stated Sandi Holten, Neurologic Music Therapist and Internship Supervisor at the Struthers Parkinson’s Center. “As result, we’re able to grow and extend our program and provide more therapy sessions to more patients. Part of what I love about working with interns is that I learn as much from them as they learn from me and our staff. Interns bring new ideas from their school programs, including the latest research and the latest methods, which makes me better … it makes them better … and ultimately benefits our patients.”

“The breadth of experience I get is just outstanding,” said intern Jennifer Diemer. “It's one of the reasons that drew me to this internship – you just get to see different kinds of people of all ages who have different diagnoses. What I’m learning and how I’m going to be able to apply my experiences here in the real world is incredibly valuable.”

That “real world” can be as close as the Twin Cities area. The fact is, 8 out of 12 HealthPartners music therapists are former Park Nicollet interns, and 3 out of 6 Park Nicollet music therapists are former interns.

Music therapy truly is an important and valuable resource for patients and their families. The therapy sessions have continued to impact so many and help them get through the challenges they face. Dawn knows firsthand just how important music therapy can be and will continue to be in the future. “I hear stories from the past, maybe 10 or 20 years ago, when patients were in the hospital and going through chemotherapy. The one thing they remember the most was when the music therapist came in. Music therapy helped them to relax, feel supported, and brought a personal and human element to their medical treatment experience."

Here’s to another 25 years

To commemorate the 25-year anniversary of the Music Therapy Internship Program, a celebration will be held October 26, 2023. If you’re interested in attending, please contact the Park Nicollet Foundation; we’d love to have you join us.