Kirsten Nelson

Music Therapy

Kirsten Nelson, MA, MT-BC, is an instructional professor and coordinator of clinical activities in music therapy. She earned both her BM and MA degrees in music therapy at the University of Iowa. Professor Nelson’s clinical work most recently focuses on pediatric medical inpatients at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital where she worked as a music therapist for nearly 20 years. Within the children’s hospital her special interests include children with cancer, pediatric pain management, and pediatric palliative care. Professor Nelson was awarded the American Music Therapy Association 2010 Clinician Based Research Award for her research focused on music therapy for adolescents undergoing spinal fusion surgery. She is published in Pain Management Nursing, Journal of Music Therapy, and Psychooncology.

Professor Nelson worked closely with interdisciplinary team members in nursing, critical care, pediatric surgery, orthopedics and pediatric palliative care. With nurse practice leaders, she authored a Quality Improvement project designed to expand music therapy services to children undergoing painful surgical procedures. She created audio and video resources that bring Music Assisted Relaxation to the bedside of each patient. In 2019, she was part of an interdisciplinary screen time reduction project for children under two years of age. She selected age-appropriate recorded music and worked with Information Technology staff to make the playlists available on the interactive patient engagement platform. Kirsten was awarded numerous Above and Beyond awards for her compassionate care of children and their families as well as the 2018 Dance Marathon Outstanding Hospital Staff Member Award for children with cancer. 

Before working at the University Hospitals, Professor Nelson created the music therapy program at West Music Company where she served as Director of Music Therapy for eight years. She developed, promoted, and provided contractual music therapy services to the community and worked with a wide variety of children and adults in both group and individual settings. Professor Nelson had experience with children and adults with mental health needs, children and adults with developmental disabilities, typically developing preschoolers, and senior adults. She also developed and marketing adaptive instruments and materials for children with special needs and acted as a consultant to music educators.

Professor Nelson is a frequent presenter at American Music Therapy Association national and regional conferences, in addition to community organizations where she advocates for music therapy. She is an active member of the American Music Therapy Association, having served on its Pediatric Medical Task Force, Assembly of Delegates, and as chairperson of several regional conferences.

Professor Nelson served as music therapy clinical training director at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics from 2004-2021. In this role, she coordinated clinical training for music therapy internship students and provided clinical supervision within the children’s hospital setting. She has been a model and mentor to our music therapy students for many years, and her wealth of experience is an exciting addition to our full-time music therapy faculty. 

Research areas
  • Music therapy
Portrait of Kirsten Nelson
Contact Information

University of Iowa
4464 Voxman Music Building (VOX)
93 E. Burlington Street
Iowa City, IA 52240
United States