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5 Reminders for Medical Music Therapy Interns

My boss recently asked me what keeps me motivated and excited about coming to work. Without pause, I answered "students" and I sincerely meant that. Becoming an internship director and supervisor has been such a rewarding experience. It affirms my love for the field and makes me excited about what's to come as this profession grows.

I'm pretty early in my supervisory journey. I still distinctly remember what it felt like to be an intern and so I draw from that experience whenever I can. As a former intern and now supervisor, here are five things I want you to know from someone who has been there.

1. You don't have to be perfect.

No one expects you to be perfect. What would perfect even look like?

The goal of your internship is not to enter with all the knowledge and skills you'll need to become a professional. If you had those, you wouldn’t need an internship.

When I interview candidates, I am not necessarily looking for the strongest musical skills or the best answer to each interview question. I am looking for an intern who is passionate about medical music therapy. I am looking for effort, follow-through, and a positive attitude. These are attributes that I can't teach.

Remember that progress and growth come from making mistakes. One thing I find so cool about this process is its invitation to take risks. Try something that gets you out of your comfort zone. Never again in your career will you have the opportunity to make mistakes the way you'll be able to now. Your supervisor will be there to back you. I've had some of my best learning experiences from mistakes. I've had some of my most successful moments from trying new things and thinking outside the box.

2. Your supervisor isn't perfect.

When I was an intern, I looked up to my supervisor like no one else. She always seemed so calm, cool, and collected. "I can't wait to be like her," I'd think. "I'll have everything figured out, then".

Supervising my own students now, I see that she must have had moments of stress and uncertainty. It comes with the territory – the medical world is dynamic and unpredictable.

I could fill a book with all the things I am still learning and figuring out. Just like interns, I have days where things are harder. Maybe a patient died that I had close rapport with. Maybe I had a difficult moment with a member of the healthcare team. Maybe I'm dealing with something personal that has nothing to do with work.

We all need patience, grace, and understanding for one another – whether you're an intern or a supervisor. I try to be transparent with my students whenever it's appropriate. It's important to know that these tough days happen to everyone. What's most important is developing inner resiliency and asking for help – or some slack – when you need it.

3. Musical integrity is a must.

When I started my undergraduate journey, I didn't know how to read music. I had never played an instrument! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It took a lot of work, many sleepless nights, and some crying. I still work on these musical foundations and find new ways to experience musical growth.

Consider the entry-level competencies laid out by the internship and take them seriously.

We want you to have these foundations under your belt so that we can focus on connecting all the pieces together. I don't want you worrying about the next chord in that song. I want you connecting with the patient and family and being present in the room.

We also want to provide our patients the most authentic music experience we can. This doesn’t mean we need to be musical prodigies. However, we need to work to enhance the musical experience for patients. Play introductions and conclusions of songs. Remember the importance of dynamics and varied playing styles. Look like you enjoy playing music and add some flair!

4. Treat your internship like you would a job.

Many internships are unpaid (which is a whole separate post for another day). However, internships provide a great framework for developing appropriate workplace behavior. I consider this your first step into the real world.

I expect my interns to show up to work on time. I anticipate assignments will be completed without additional reminders. I will hold you to the same standards of professional behavior that I do any other member of my team.

Internship is where I homed in on the skills that make me a successful employee today. I learned the concept of time management – coordinating several assignments at a time. I recognized the importance of keeping deadlines and following through with my promises. I found out that developing and maintaining relationships with my colleagues was just as important as the work I did at the bedside.

5. Your internship is what you make it.

As a music therapist, I am providing an opportunity for patient and family support. But I’m dependent on the patient or family member to engage in the process with me.

As an internship director and supervisor, I can only provide you OPPORTUNITIES to learn. We can only get you so far if you aren't engaging in the process.

Your internship is ultimately what you make it. Perhaps you discover a passion for a specific medical diagnosis. Maybe you find a curiosity for a specific intervention. I want you to lean into that. Pull that into your assignments and projects. Foster that passion.

I thrive off of the enthusiasm my students bring to their work. When they're excited, I get excited! I find new avenues to help them explore areas of interest. Simply put, I put in more when my students put in more.

When I look back on my days as an intern, I have mostly positive memories. I hope that you will do the same. Your internship marks an important step, bridging the gap between student and professional. Be patient with yourself, be patient with your supervisor, and trust the process.

Love you all -


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1 Comment

Unknown member
Nov 28, 2021

Thanks for this post, especially as I'll be preparing for my internship soon. Can't wait for your post about unpaid internships!

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