As a drummer, Sam Rodgers-Melnick (GRS ’22, public health) wanted to use his musical skills to help others, so he sought out a career in music therapy where he started as an intern at University Hospitals (UH) in 2012.
“Making music was the thing I enjoyed most,” he said. “I saw its potential to connect people, reduce stress, and provide an outlet for self-expression in my life and the lives of others. I wanted to apply music directly to helping people, so I pursued a career in music therapy and never looked back”
Less than a year after starting his music therapy internship, Rodgers-Melnick was hired as a board-certified music therapist at the UH Seidman Cancer Center where he used music interventions such as active music making and songwriting to help patients with cancer and patients with sickle cell disease manage symptoms and cope with treatment. Seeking to understand music therapy’s impact on patient care, he set his sights on Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s Master of Public Health in 2017. Now, he’s continuing his studies as a doctoral student within the Clinical Translational Science program, which he is expected to complete in December 2025.
Over his decade-long career at University Hospitals and six years at CWRU, Rodgers-Melnick has led multiple research initiatives, including the first-ever systemic research on the impact of music therapy on acute pain, health-related quality of life, and the transition from pediatric to adult care among individuals with sickle-cell disease. Since then, his research has grown to include qualitative research related to tobacco cessation in oncology; survey studies investigating perceptions of integrative oncology modalities; and a retrospective study examining the impact of massage therapy among youth with hematologic and oncologic conditions.
Rodgers-Melnick’s proposal, titled “Developing Real-world Understanding of Medical Music therapy using the Electronic Health Record” (DRUMMER), enables him to leverage electronic health record (EHR) data to investigate the clinical effectiveness of music therapy for addressing patients’ needs throughout health systems. DRUMMER builds on Rodgers-Melnick’s recent observational studies of medical music therapy supported by the Kulas Foundation in Cleveland. This fellowship award also allows him to examine predictors of patients’ clinical response to music therapy interventions such as the use of improvisation, imagery and songwriting within sessions.
“Overall, I hope to change the conversation around music therapy in hospitals from ‘music therapy is nice to have’ to ‘music therapy is an essential health intervention for improving patient-centered outcomes,” he said.
The Daily spoke with Rodgers-Melnick to learn more about his research.
Read on to learn more.
Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
1. Can you briefly describe your research?
I will pursue the following three aims over the course of this F31 Fellowship:
investigate which patient and/or music therapy session characteristics are associated with changes in patient-reported outcome measures (i.e., stress, pain, anxiety and coping)
compare utilization outcomes (i.e., length of stay and medications administered for pain and anxiety) and longitudinal pain intensity scores between inpatients receiving music therapy and propensity score matched controls; and,
examine the longitudinal effects on patient-reported outcome measures among patients receiving music therapy over the course of their hospital admissions.
2. What motivated you to pursue a PhD at Case Western Reserve University? How has CWRU shaped your research?
I was particularly drawn to the Clinical Translational Science Program because of its integrated curriculum combining theory, research methods, team science skills, meta-analysis, health informatics, and an emphasis on cultural diversity and inclusion.
My experience in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences has been extremely valuable as I’ve gained skills in study design, program evaluation, statistics, epidemiology and research theory.
3. Any notable research experiences you’d like to call out?
During my Master of Public Health practicum [at CWRU], I had the honor of working with Monica Webb Hooper, the deputy director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. I assisted with two projects and authored two publications related to the Tobacco Intervention and Psychosocial Support service at UH Seidman Cancer Center. These projects were valuable in gaining skills in quantitative and qualitative analysis.
4. What do you hope to accomplish through your research? How might it influence the integration of music therapy into patient care or treatment plans?
Skills acquired within this fellowship [are] especially important for understanding the real-world impact of integrative health and medicine modalities and improving evidence-based patient care.
I hope that the results of this research [will] help improve clinical decision-making for medical music therapists. Our research has already demonstrated that a single session of music therapy leads to clinically meaningful reductions in pain, stress, and anxiety in multiple inpatient populations. DRUMMER seeks to understand the impact beyond the single session to effects on longitudinal symptom management, length of stay, and medication utilization.
5. Are there any challenges you’ve encountered while conducting research, and how have you addressed them?
Most of my research requires the use of patient-reported outcomes, questions that help understand how patients are feeling (e.g., rate your pain from 0 to 10) and functioning (e.g., ability to engage in day-to-day tasks despite pain). There are multiple challenges in patient-reported outcome collection, including building trust with patients such that they will answer all of [our] questions truthfully, designing seamless processes to optimize patient-reported outcome data collection, and collecting data to track outcomes over time.
We recently published a paper in JMIR Human Factors that describes a quality improvement initiative to increase patient-reported outcome collection among a medical music therapy team. Through training focused on providing skills and resources for optimizing pre- and post-session patient-reported outcome collection, specific guidelines for entering session data in the electronic health record, and opportunities for the team to provide feedback, we were able to significantly increase rates of patient-reported outcome collection.
6. What are your career aspirations and goals beyond completing your PhD?
I seek a career as a leading health services researcher and independent investigator in the field of integrative health and medicine who can collaborate across disciplines and institutions and apply robust methodological approaches to optimize integrative therapies for addressing patients’ needs throughout health systems.