Songs for Surgery: Music’s Role in the Operating Room

Music in the operating roomMusic therapy is an integral part of today’s health care landscape, but the benefits of music are by no means limited to patients. Increasingly, medical professionals also turn to music in hopes of easing stress or even boosting concentration.

Bringing Calm to a Stressful Environment
Patients initially balk at the thought of their surgeon listening to music, but many fail to realize just how noisy and chaotic an operating room can truly be — and how much the right song can help. According to Gizmodo, sound levels frequently exceed 100 decibels; compare that to a busy restaurant, which hovers between 94 and 100 decibels. Many people struggle to hold a basic conversation in such an environment — how can they be expected to focus on their work in a high-stakes situation with far more noise?

Music has a unique ability to reduce stress and anxiety, even in a chaotic surgical environment. This is particularly true for classical music, jazz music, or instrumental soundtracks. Surgeons who rely on music report feeling more in control and better able to cope with stress when they listen to the right songs.

Choosing Music for Surgery
Technically, music in the operating room is nothing new. Evan O’Neill Kane famously used a gramophone to ease patient stress in 1914. Since then, however, surgeons have enjoyed far more conveniences, with today’s medical professionals making ample use of Spotify playlists. What has remained the same is the need for the right music. Certain songs may induce calm, but excessively so. Others may make it more difficult for surgeons to concentrate on their work. Sometimes, members of a surgical team disagree heavily on the appropriate music. Ideally, everyone will have some say in the type of music played during surgery, even if this means rotating playlists.

Depending on the type of surgery, it may also be necessary for patients to have a say in the music played. This is particularly true for operations involving local anesthesia. Obviously, when patients are put to sleep, they care little about the type of music the surgical team plays. For patients awake throughout the procedure, surgeons may ask about volume and preferred genres.

When to Turn Off the Music
Although surgeons largely agree that music is valuable during standard operations, there are times in which it can prove too distracting. This is particularly true for intricate or unusual procedures requiring a more meticulous approach. In such situations, it’s best for surgeons to briefly turn the music off and resume their playlist later. Turning off music signals to all team members that the matter at hand is serious and requires their utmost attention.

Music should also be avoided if it causes other staff members to stumble. Anesthesiologists are particularly sensitive to music and may not be able to perform at peak levels when exposed to the wrong playlist.

The debate on music’s role in the operating room has yet to be settled, but preliminary research and anecdotal evidence both indicate that it can prove valuable for both surgeons and patients.

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