Physicians Are Talking About…

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

Brandon Cohen


May 11, 2017

A surgeon described a frightening experience. "My colleague loved to operate with very loud music. It made me palpitate, become agitated, and lose focus. It was truly a nightmare."

Another surgeon who finds music distracting also sees real danger in playing music. "The surgical team's attitude becomes casual in lengthy cases."

But one surgeon disagrees that music is a safety concern.

The most important underlying factor in surgical error is communication issues in the OR. I find music to work as a bonding tool between all actors in this setting.

Hammer to the Beat, Suture to the Rhythm

Several surgeons commented that different musical genres suit different situations. A plastic surgeon wrote, "For facelifts, I play orchestral rock like the Moody Blues. For breast implants, it's Van Halen, Metallica, or ZZ Top."

Another surgeon prefers "classical, soft jazz, or instrumental during surgeries at the end of the day. During colposcopy or hysteroscopy, I like more energy, such as Maná."

An anesthesiologist grew sick of a surgeon's repetitive choices. "Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley, every Thursday. Every single time. Same songs, same order."

A lyrical orthopedic surgeon offered this advice:

Having heavy metal blasting in the background while you're packing a bleeding liver is just inappropriate. But having Enya soothe you as you swing your wrist to the rhythm while suturing the femoral artery is just nice.

A colleague was much more blunt, saying, "Joint replacements need a good beat to hammer to."

Another surgeon prefers "slow and melodic tunes while I perform slow and critical steps, and faster, hip numbers during quicker parts of procedures, such as wound closure."

And a plastic surgeon goes by the clock, listening to "classical in the morning, pop in the afternoon, and rock or heavy metal late in the day or at night just to elevate the adrenaline."

One anesthesiologist made a point that was not appreciated by his colleagues but might find traction among musicians:

I have never worked in an operating theater that possessed a [performing rights society] license, so technically playing all such music is breaking the law and depriving the performance artists of their legitimate income.


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