Music in the Operating Room

Contrary to popular belief, the operating room is not a tense chamber where the only silence that is ever broken is a beeping monitor, or the deep gasps of a ventilator. Behind the scenes, once the patient goes under, is a room infused with melodies that do much more than satisfy the ears of the surgeon. In a number of studies, music in the operating room has been proven a valuable part of the routine. But, what exactly is on the surgeon’s operating playlist?


study published by Surgical Innovation named hip-hop and reggae the music that most benefited surgeons’ performances. Bob Marley surely wouldn’t disapprove of his music being advantageous to a successful surgery. When it comes down to it, taste is the deciding factor towards whether or not music adds to a surgeon’s performance. Comfort and inspiration come with music that is satisfying and familiar to the surgeon.


While surgeons operate best to music they have chosen themselves, it becomes detrimental when the music has an arousing nature or when the volume is turned up too high. In most cases, surgeons are reasonable and cautious about the music that they put on. If chosen sensibly, music’s relaxing effect has the power to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and a series of other autonomic responses. Nervousness disintegrates, allowing for a focused and confident surgeon. Not only are feelings of uneasiness freed from the body, but performance is dramatically improved as well. When tested, speed and accuracy were consistently better when music was turned on. Cleveland Clinicone of the top four hospitals in the United States as rated by U.S. News & World Report, supports these findings: 

Ben Challacombe, a consultant urologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust in London, shows us that music serves a practical purpose as well. He says,  “You basically have a maximum 30-minute window to remove a cancerous tumor from a kidney. The traditional way is for someone to call out the time, but that’s distracting and quite stressful.”  Instead, he uses six five-minute songs to help keep him on top of time. The song-changes act as a prompt by giving audio cues and are a much less pressurizing way of letting Challacombe know how much time he has left.

Music is much less practical for junior surgeons, who are the exception. A study in Surgical Endoscopy said that junior surgeons performing a tricky virtual operation for the first time performed less well when listening to music. Rather than calming the surgeon, music served as more of a distraction.

Music’s influences reach much further than just doctors. Although music has no effect on an anesthetized patient, playing music before and after surgery has been proven a valuable step towards healing. Several studies suggest that patients who listen to soothing music while being put to sleep require up to 50% less anesthetic in some instances, and recover more quickly afterwards. Music also reduces the patient’s anxiety before surgery, therefore requiring less pain anxiety medication.


Camden Kurtz, a biotechnology (pre-medicine) major who spends countless hours watching surgical procedures says, “It makes sense that surgeons would perform with background music because it is an easy and effective way to achieve heightened brain function without chemical or physical stimuli. There doesn’t seem to be any potential harm, only the benefit of accentuated performance and a happier surgeon.”


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