Physicians Are Talking About…

Music in the OR: Turn It Up, or Turn It Off?

Brandon Cohen


May 11, 2017

Is an operating room the right place for Beethoven, Beyoncé, or Phil Collins? Does music soothe the patient and enhance the surgeon's skill, or is it an unnecessary and unprofessional distraction? Does the genre of music or type of surgery make a difference? A recent article on Medscape by Dr Bret Stetka spurred healthcare professionals to debate the question of music in the operating room (OR). [Comments may have been edited for clarity and length.]

Want to hear the songs our readers mentioned in the original article? Medscape has created a "Surgical Soundtrack" playlist on Spotify (medscapetunes) based on what readers love to listen to in the OR.

Familiar Tunes and Soothing Songs

Many surgeons view music in the OR as a clear benefit. An orthopedic surgeon wrote, "The team seems to relax more, and they even hum along."

A plastic surgeon agreed, and added, "I like music in the OR. I play it for the benefit of patients. Many times, patients comment that the music is relaxing. I usually ask them what they like to listen to."

An anesthesiologist who approves of music in the OR was also solicitous of patients' tastes:

Generally, I find music in the OR helps to create a positive attitude among all members of the staff and makes everyone's long working day more enjoyable. Before induction of anesthesia, I ask patients about their favorite music, and then we play those tunes when the patient is being prepped for surgery.

A cosmopolitan colleague added that "a little bit of mutually enjoyed music adds a certain je ne c'est quoi to the OR environment. For me, this enhances the work experience."

A urologist who advocates for a songful operating room took the opportunity to get in a few digs at coworkers:

I always operate with music—light music without too much noise, and it helps a lot, especially because I am not disturbed by the "blah, blah" conversation of the nurses and anesthesiologists.

And a surgeon recalled a specific case in which music made a clear difference. He was doing a minor procedure on a 90-year-old patient, and playing '50s music calmed her down.

A Dangerous Distraction?

But some OR staff saw potential problems. A neurosurgeon and self-declared music lover commented, "I don't need and don't play music while operating. It is very distracting to me."

Another surgeon, who likes a few quiet tunes during procedures, also has apprehensions:

Beware of the effects of operating room music on residents with attention-deficit disorder. If the background music turns into karaoke time with everyone's attention focused on the music, or your circulator asks you to repeat what you said because the music is too loud, it's time to turn it down.

Others concur. One healthcare professional wrote this about a colleague in the OR:

An older nurse who is a bit hard of hearing likes classic rock and frequently has the volume turned up far too high. It's quite surreal having boomer party music playing loudly while a C-section patient lies vomiting on the OR table.

A registered nurse also finds music distracting. "I'd rather be able to hear the communication in the room. We have plenty of time between patients to rock and roll."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.