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Music Meets Medicine Program Brings Music to Children in Hospitals

We recently spoke with emergency medicine physician, Dr. J Mack Slaughter, otherwise known as J Mack Slaughter, about the Music Meets Medicine program he founded in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that donates instruments and teaching time to kids and teenagers being treated in children’s hospitals.

TeamHealth: Tell us about a little about yourself and your background as a physician and a musician.

Dr. Slaughter:  That’s an interesting intersection between my past and my present. I was raised in a real-life “Partridge Family.” I was one of three kids who would go around to the local fairs and sing. I was three-years-old when I first got on stage! I naturally followed that path and ended up auditioning and getting a spot in a boy band called Sons of Harmony that was being organized for a nationally syndicated radio show called “Kidd Kraddick in the Morning” and we toured with Destiny’s Child. My plan was to have a solo career as a singer/songwriter but ended up in TV and film for several years.

One of the reasons why I wanted to become an emergency medicine doctor in the first place is because my sister is an ER nurse. I just realized that maybe music and acting wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so at 21 I made a radical career change and sought another summit. I considered all my options, but couldn’t think of another job that would be more demanding and engaging than being a doctor. I knew it would be an arduous path to become a physician where I was going to be constantly challenged and pushed, and that was exciting.

TeamHealth:  Can you explain the Music Meets Medicine program?

Dr. Slaughter:  Historically, what we’ve done is donate instruments and free lessons to children and teenagers spending time at children’s hospitals in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It’s cool, because the program has really evolved over the years.

It started out as just me as an undergrad student going up to the hospital that lacked music therapy programs by myself with a guitar to doing some jamming and playing around with kids to put a smile on their face. As I got further into the pre-med and med school track, I got more volunteers to join up with me, and we’d take our guitars around to local children’s hospitals and do it together. Then, as I got older and got further along in my training I was financially ready to give back to the community and I also started doing more fundraising. Last year, with the help of another nonprofit called Kidd’s Kids we were able to raise $150,000 to open up a jam room at Dallas Children’s Medical Center.

TeamHealth:  What inspired you to form Music Meets Medicine in 2008?

Dr. Slaughter:  My mother was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, and reconstruction. She did radiation and chemo, and it just felt really dismal in that treatment room. So one day my sisters and I brought our instruments to the treatment room, and the mood just turned around! There was just so much love and happiness in the room and positivity, time flew by, and we were like, well, we’re never coming up here without our instruments again!

TeamHealth:  What age range and area does the program serve?

Dr. Slaughter:  From the performance aspect and music therapist angle, even toddler age children can really be engaged and can experiment with little percussive instruments. As the kids get a little older, I feel that’s where we can actually do the most long-term good. You’ll have a teenager, especially oncology patients, instead of sitting there and beating the same video game over and over, we can put a guitar in their hands and give them a skill that they’ll have for the rest of their life. Instead of wasted time, all of the sudden, they’re coming out with more than they went in with.

TeamHealth:  Are there certain instruments taught?

Dr. Slaughter:  We teach anything from an electronic drum kit, which barely sounds like anything without the headphones on, but when you put them on, and you’re jamming out in front of 100,000 people in your mind, to electric guitars and keyboards. We also have small percussive instruments that are meant for young, toddler-aged children for therapeutic play.

TeamHealth:  Who is teaching these kids to play?

Dr. Slaughter:  It’s volunteers, myself and music therapists. Music therapists are working hands-on with the kids which is great because we’re not limited to how many hours a particular volunteer could spare that month. Music therapists are in the hospital Monday to Friday, four weeks out of the month, 12 months out of the year.

As Music Meets Medicine has grown, so has the acceptance of music therapy in hospitals. We’re starting to see more and more music therapists naturally make their way into hospitals, but they don’t have funding a lot of the time, because insurance isn’t going to pay for them so, that’s where the donations can really come into play.

TeamHealth:  How are music and medicine similar?

Dr. Slaughter:  I think it’s the therapeutic benefit. Medicine heals the body and music heals the soul. It’s one of my favorite phrases, because I think it really captures the interplay between the two. Art therapy can do that as well and really help people emotionally process what’s going on with their bodies. The cognitive processing of their specific hospitalization or disease, I think, is really where music can help heal the soul while medicine’s working to heal the body.

TeamHealth:  What are you listening to these days? What music inspires you? Who are some of your favorite all-time musicians?

Dr. Slaughter:  I’m listening to a little bit of everything these days, but it seems like things keep coming full-circle musically. I grew up really listening to The Beatles with my parents and The Eagles, and then I went off on a big indie tangent for years there where I was really into Jimmy Eat World and Radiohead. Today I like to listen to and try to understand what’s happening in the electronic music world. It’s very different than the classic songwriting approach that you take when it’s just you and your guitar or you and a piano and find it interesting from a spectator’s perspective. It’s is a completely and wildly different genre than I’m used to playing.

TeamHealth:  How can clinicians or others interested in the Music Meets Medicine program get involved?

Dr. Slaughter:  Anyone can email me directly, I’m open to ideas as well, especially people in different towns wanting to get involved somehow and maybe sharing some of my experiences and figuring out how we can team up to bring Music Meets Medicine to their area.

Watch this great video of Dr. J Mack Slaughter spreading some sunshine at Scottish Rite Hospital!