Music in medical education: A critical interpretive synthesis

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Introduction: While many have championed the value of music in medical education, research specific to how and why music has been offered in medical education is sparse and there have been few attempts to synthesise the literature. 

Methods: A Critical Interpretive Synthesis (CIS) of 56 texts including published articles, correspondence, abstracts and one thesis published between 1977 and 2022 was undertaken to explore the evidence basis for offering music in medical education. 

Results: A total of 52 music-focused programmes/activities were described, encompassing both curricular and extra-curricular, receptive and participatory music activities and a wide range of musical genres. Inductive analysis of data extracted from texts revealed a variety of rationales for the use of music in medical education, which could be grouped within seven interrelated themes: well-being; supportive learning environment; affective engagement; teaching and learning; developing skills for clinical practice; humanism in medicine; and creative expression (identity). 

Discussion: The results of this synthesis demonstrate that there remains a gap between what is claimed about the affordances of music and what has been explicitly addressed in medical education research. Despite a paucity of research in this area, the available data support that the affordances of music are ‘multiple’ and may not be well represented by linear models. Evidence that engagement with music is beneficial for medical students is strongest in relation to the affordances of music for well-being, facilitating a supportive learning environment, affective engagement, memorisation and creative expression (identity). That engagement with music might enhance humanism, including developing skills for clinical practice, requires further investigation. Accounting for student agency and the ‘multiple’ affordances of music will ensure that future teaching and research are best positioned to benefit medical students' well-being and personal and professional development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-522
Number of pages16
JournalMedical Education
Issue number5
Early online date27 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Medical education
  • Music in medical education
  • Music-focused programmes
  • Music-focused activities


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