Music In Surgery Suites: A Must

Posted: May 31, 2012
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It's like that and that's the way it is

A silent surgical suite is not a good thing. While I don’t like listening to every fluid pump, EKG and ventilator alarming simultaneously throughout a procedure, neither do I want all of the alarms silenced. I take some minor comfort in hearing the steady rhythm of the pulse ox chiming (quietly) away. However, the beep-beep-beep shouldn’t be all that I can hear. 

Personally I am a thumbs-up-to-music sort of surgeon. I know there are surgeons out there that don’t like any music. In fact, one of my residency mentors was strict as they come in this respect. So I couldn’t wait to do surgery at night by myself, when I could turn on the radio.

I’m generally the most senior person in the suite which means (among other things) that I get to pick the music. There is quite a bit of evidence out in the human medical field regarding music and human efficiency. When music can be heard in the background during surgery, we humans tend to be less reactive (think flinching with a scalpel in your hand when some unexpected noise happens), quicker in performing familiar procedures, and more likely to act as a team (think communication). There is also plenty of evidence that it is good for the patient. Human patients are less stressed, experience fewer complications and thus heal faster when music is played during procedures requiring sedation (e.g. gastroscopy).

Of course, there can be downsides. Someone in the suite may detest the music selection and spend unhappy energy wishing the radio/mp3 player etc. would just die. As a personal example, one of my internship mentors played "Roxanne" by the Police. EVERY. SINGLE. C-SECTION. Maybe he still does.

My most efficient (quickest) surgeries have been under the influence of… wait for it... hip hop! Ok, before you haters get in my grill please keep in mind the following:

1) Different strokes for different folks. I’m not recommending hip hop for anyone else, but merely admitting that it works for me. I only put it on in surgery when I am absolutely sure the whole surgery team (technicians, assistants, DVMs) is cool with it. Disappointingly, that is a rare situation.

2) Hip Hop/Rap is not the only thing on my ipod. In fact it represents about 40% of my music and I ain’t tellin’ what the rest is.

3) It’s not country-western (not the most popular genre around here).

But seriously, my only absolute verboten genres in surgery are jazz, country, and classical (“Wake up, Dr. Richter!”). Most of the time, we play a radio station that is low on the ads and has zero talk shows. I like to think of myself as an equal opportunity music abuser. With a "general hits" local station station we can all find something to complain about and we are unlikely to hear the same song twice in one surgery, unless there is a sudden Madonna marathon.