We all express our talents in different ways. For one nurse from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, music is her outlet of choice for self-expression and healing. Through her songs, Gina Miller, RN has helped herself, her patients and the greater community at large. She recently released her second country music EP, Angel from Montgomery.
“I have always sung,” Miller said. Her songwriting career had an unexpected start. “My dad was sick when I was young and that was stressful. To vent, I would write these poems.” She wrote her first song when her father passed away.
Finding she had an aptitude for it, Miller entered and won a few lyric contests and began building a network within the local country music scene, including her first producer, the late John Stoecker, who was heavily influential in her music.
In the meantime, she started her first career, as a cardiac tech. During that time, she also volunteered as an EMT for her hometown ambulance crew. Miller merged her two passions when she co-wrote the song “Tree of Life.” It is the official tribute song for Emergency Medical Services, designed to honor EMS personnel who have died in the line of duty. She performed the song herself at several of her colleague’s memorial services.
Miller returned to school to become a registered nurse and currently works as a school nurse. Her line of work has proven to be an ideal source of musical inspiration. “You have so many things that happen to you. Nursing is so full of emotions,” she remarked. Those emotions, of course, are fodder for song lyrics that are universally poignant. “If you write a song, you can make someone laugh or cry. It depends on what emotions the song is pulling out of them.”
Songwriting is powerful outlet in what can be a stressful job. “Nursing has been a huge factor in my writing. Just getting emotions out on paper is helpful,” she acknowledged. She has used music for the students’ benefit too, with music consistently playing in the nurse’s office. The kids have told her how much they like the soothing sounds when they feel ill. It makes them feel safe.
Music, of course, is well-recognized as therapeutic. It helps us relax and regroup. It releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers.
Beyond the classroom, Miller works with recording artists Linda Davis to organize local Stage Performance Classes that teach young people public speaking skills, stage presence and confidence. “It builds their self-esteem,” she explained and gives kids a safe outlet for self-expression. Each session closes with a concert, that Miller has helped to organize, and has even lent her talents, performing as the opening act. She strives to set a strong example for the kids to reach for high goals.
Engine for Good
Miller also partners with fellow musicians to advocate for missing people. Through her network of musicians, she met fellow songwriter Janelle Rapp whose sister, also named Gina, had gone missing. Rapp wanted to use entertainment to draw media attention to missing people. When someone goes missing, there is an immediate bombardment of news and social media coverage, but then the news cycle moves onto the next story as the person remains missing.
Rapp started the GINA for Missing Persons FOUNDation. Every year, the foundation hosts the Squeaky Wheel Tour. Each musician on tour “adopts” a missing person from their state to profile during the concerts. It’s unexpected for a performer to hold up a photo of a missing person during a show and tell their story, so the audience pays attention. Miller advocates for Toni Lee Sharpless, a fellow nurse from Lancaster County, Pa. who has been missing since 2009. Since the tour’s beginning in 2006, 600 missing people have been found.
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Music has also been a therapeutic outlet for Miller. She was in motor vehicle accidents in 2009, 2012 and 2014. The third accident caused the most damage, with Miller suffering a traumatic brain injury. She went back to her job as a school nurse too soon. “Nurses are pretty stubborn,” she explained, but she had difficulty keeping at up at work. Not giving her body enough time to heal caused her to regress. “I really thought, my career’s over.”
Currently, Miller is out on medical leave and for the past year, she has been an outpatient at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Malvern, Pa. The music that she used to touch others’ lives has proven instrumental in her own recovery.
Her speech language pathologist told her, “You light up whenever we talk about music.” However, Miller recalled, “I had to adapt and work around memory problems.” For a songwriter, facing difficulty with memory and language was tough. Her therapists incorporated music into Miller’s recovery, helping her re-learn the words and learn strategies to retain the verses and choruses in her songs previously wrote for Angel from Montgomery.
“The music was the biggest part of my healing,” she said. “People need to work through whatever’s holding them back. You can’t ever lose hope, you have to keep going.”
She’s ready to head back to work in September, thanks to the efforts of her rehab team and the powers of song.
Danielle Bullen is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]