What Your Surgeon Is Probably Listening To In The OR

What is your surgeon grooving to? (Photo by Getty Images)

For many surgeons, music is a must in the operating room. And when it comes to music type, it’s the classical melodies that get the most play.

An editorial in the notoriously lighthearted issue of the British Medical Journal examined the popularity — and benefits — of music in the OR. Editorial author David C. Bosanquet, surgical registrar in the department of surgery at the University Hospital of Wales, tells Yahoo Health that “for the surgical team, it can help to relax everyone in theatre,” though “this obviously does not equate with ‘zoning out.’”

In the editorial, Bosanquet says that music is played during 62 to 72 percent of operations, with the lead surgeon most often being the person who chooses the songs. Music seems to have anxiety-reducing effects, and also improves efficiency and communication between team members. It also appears to enhance surgical performance by increasing task focus, particularly among surgeons who listen to music regularly, he notes.

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The classical genre is the top type of music played during a surgical procedure due to its ability to “evoke mental vigilance,” as well as its absence of lyrics, according to the editorial. But Bosanquet and his fellow authors say most mainstream music is “theatre [operating room] appropriate.”

However, music in the OR isn’t right for everyone or in all cases. “For communication specifically, this was one of the points that [anesthesiologists] particularly find music hinders, rather than helps,” explains Bosanquet. “However, if it calms the theatre in general, this can help communication between team members.”

In addition, more upbeat, lively music may be better deployed during straightforward routine surgeries, than complex or emergency cases, he says.

“I liken this to revising for exams,” he explains. “Some people work well with music on and suggests it aids concentration, whilst others find it a distraction. Simply put, if music is a distraction, it is unhelpful and probably should be stopped.”

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Music doesn’t just affect the doctors — recent data also suggests that music has a calming effect on patients before, during, and after surgery. In one study of 372 patients having elective surgery, songs with relaxing melodies (60 to 80 beats per minute, which mimics the resting heart rate) were more effective than pre-surgery sleep-inducing medication.

“I think the right music in the right circumstance can be very beneficial,” Bosanquet says. “When a patient is awake, there is plenty of evidence to suggest it calms patients as well as drugs, without the side-effects and with minimal cost. Plus, it can be administered and withdrawn in an instant.  A wonder drug!”

Bosanquet and his co-authors offered up some picks for surgeons looking to update their OR playlists — their commentary from the editorial is next to each song. (Maybe request your surgeon listen to these if you’re undergoing an operation?)

  • “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees (“Though a great suggestion for the patient, operating team members should resist the urge to emulate John Travolta’s expansive dance routine.”)

  • “Smooth Operator” by Sade (“…a must for all theatre mix-tapes.”)

  •  “Un-break My Heart” by Toni Braxton (“Ideal for cardiac surgery.”)

  • “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd (“Suggested listening while waiting for a spinal or epidural anesthetic to take effect.”)

  • “Fix You” by Coldplay (“Suitable for those wishing to harness the full healing power of Chris Martin. Expect miracles.”)

  • “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham (“Best played in recovery…Exit from recovery should be backwards, crouched and with finger clicking.”)

What not to listen to: “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen.

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