August 09, 2015

Music in the Operating Room - Good or Bad?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Does music in the operating room help or hurt how an operation goes? One research suggests that it helps. Another suggests that it doesn't. So what's true? I think both are true and depends on the individual...

As a surgeon, I personally do not play music in the OR. However, throughout my surgical training and career, I've been in both types of environments and ultimately, I think the answer depends on the surgeon whether music helps or hinders.

Recall the age-old argument of students who claim playing music (or even TV) in the background helps them study better whereas parents claim it should be silent to minimize distractions.

In the end, whether talking about students studying, musicians practicing, or surgeons operating, we all want to achieve that mental state of focus when time seems to fly and everything seems to go oh so perfectly.

Some require music to help them achieve this state of mental nirvana. Others can achieve it without music. And still others can be distracted with music which actively prevents them from entering that blissful state.

I consider myself fortunate that I don't "need" music to focus and even if music is playing, I can easily tune it out to the point that I won't be able to recall what was playing when asked.

Perhaps the worst situation when playing music in the operating room is when you mix one OR staff who needs music to concentrate with another who finds it distracting. That's when a surgery day becomes stressful and seems to last forever.

Another is if the music is SO loud that nobody can hear what anybody is saying preventing effective communication for smooth operating.

Music improves stitching prowess of plastic surgeons. Business Standard 7/31/15

Music in the operating room off-putting, study suggests. BBC News 8/5/15

Smooth Operator? Surgeons and songs are a winning mix, study finds. BBC News 12/12/14

Listening to music 'makes surgery less stressful'. BBC News 3/28/12
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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