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Smooth Operator: The Music Your Surgeon Is Listening To In the OR During Top Surgery

We tend to think of the theatre as a quiet setting, but the operating theatre is anything but quiet. Once you're under, the operating room where you're having your Top Surgery done will be filled with occupational noise: the OR staff talking, machines whirring, metal instruments clanging, monitors and alarms beeping, and... the sound of music.

According to a recent survey conducted by Spotify and Figure 1, nearly all (90%) of surgeons and surgical residents listen to music in the OR. (This is up from 63% reported in a 2008 study.)

Smooth Operator: The Music Your Surgeon Is Listening To In the O.R.Music and healing arts once went hand in hand: The Chinese character for medicine includes the character for music. In ancient Greece, music was used to ease stress, promote sleep, and soothe pain. Native Americans and Africans use/d singing and chanting as part of their healing rituals.

The innovative Evan O'Neill Kane, probably best known for removing his own appendix, is credited with being the first western physician to employ music therapy for surgery patients in 1914, when he lugged a gramophone into the operating room and played records to help calm his patients before and during anesthesia.

The practice became more common in the 1930s, and medical journals of the time recommended "soft, soothing, melodious music" as best for patients, but advised surgeons to avoid jazz. (Why??)

Studies have affirmed the calming effects of music on surgery patients. A 2009 study of 372 patients found that playing relaxing melodies that mimicked the resting heart rate was more effective than standard pharmaceutical interventions in reducing anxiety before patients went under anesthesia. A 2010 study also reported that music in the operating room diminishes the anxiety of patients.

Smooth Operator: The Music Your Surgeon Is Listening To In the O.R.Today, operating room music isn't just for patients; it's also for staff.

Evidence suggests that carefully self-selected music can have a beneficial effect on some surgeons during specific stages of the surgery. A 2015 study reported that not only did listening to music while operating improve the speed with which residents performed wound closures, but it also improved the quality of the repair. Around 80% of theatre staff reported in a 2014 study that music benefits communication between team members, reducing anxiety levels and improving efficiency. Music also appears to enhance surgical performance by increasing task focus, particularly among surgeons who listen to music regularly.

A 2010 study found that "music in the operating theatre has immeasurable effects. It can prevent distraction, minimize annoyance, reduce stress and diminish the anxiety of patients and staff." And 78.9% of the participants in a 2008 study claimed that music in the OR makes them calmer and more efficient.

Dr. Jens Berli recently shared his OR playlist on Facebook:

That got us wondering about all the music that's being played during these life changing surgeries, so we asked several popular Top Surgery surgeons what they listen to in the OR. Here's what they said:

Chillin' With the Doc' of the Bay

I most definitely listen to music in the OR. We try to actually play 'spa music' – very calming and soothing like light piano music while the patient is falling asleep. Once they are asleep we then switch to something very uptempo like Kygo or a similar type of music with a very upbeat tone and a driving beat. It helps keep me energetic and focused on surgery. Pop music is super easy to listen to also, so that commonly is chosen by the OR team. I'm pretty easy, as long as some sort of upbeat music is playing.

Dr. Scott Mosser   Dr. Scott Mosser - San Francisco


New York State of Mind

Yes, we play music all the time. Oftentimes it is smooth jazz, latin jazz, show tunes, etc. Sometimes the patient will state their preference and we can usually dial it up. We often start the OR day with my own medley of carefully chosen songs: I've Got You Under My Skin by Frank Sinatra, Forever Young by Rod Stewart, Smooth Operator by Sade, and Thanks for the Mammaries (Memory).

Dr. Elliot Jacobs   Dr. Elliot Jacobs - New York City


Launching Off In Cleveland*

Anything by David Bowie (favorite artist.)

Dr. Daniel Medalie   Dr. Daniel Medalie - Cleveland

(*Rock History Note: On Sept. 22, 1972, David Bowie brought Ziggy Stardust to the Cleveland Music Hall on the opening night of the U.S. leg of his tour. This was America's first-ever glimpse of the budding superstar.)


Dr. Rumer listens to pop music in the OR. She likes it because it's upbeat and has a cadence that promotes efficiency. She streams from Spotify into Jawbone BIG JAMBOX speakers, one in each of her two ORs.

Dr. Kathy Rumer   Dr. Kathy Rumer - Ardmore PA

Yes, I listen to music in the OR. Usually it's one of four things: hip-hop, broadway musicals, old-school country, or 80's pop. In a presentation on Top Surgery I recently gave to the Central Texas Transgender Health Coalition I showed a lot of OR videos, and I had to mute them all because you could hear the music playing in the background!

Dr. Dustin Reid   Dr. Dustin Reid - Austin

We love listening to music in the OR! We usually give the patient the choice of music they want to hear, especially if they are in twilight sedation. Otherwise, we usually listen to Top 40.

Dr. Mark Youssef   Dr. Mark Youssef - Santa Monica

Sometimes [I listen to music in the OR.] Queen, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Doors.

Dr. Timothy Alexander   Dr. Timothy Alexander - Hollywood FL

Yes, I do listen to music. I have a wide range, from classic rock to classical!

Dr. Loren Schechter   Dr. Loren Schechter - Chicago

Dr. Sassani mostly listens to Lady Gaga, Carole King and Chicago in the operating room.

Dr. Russell Sassani   Dr. Russell Sassani - Plantation FL

Mostly EDM and hip hop, and sometimes Bollywood for a change of pace. Fast paced, upbeat music keeps the energy level high [in the OR] and helps everyone maintain an optimum performance level.

Dr. Javad Sajan   Dr. Javad Sajan - Seattle

I always listen to music in the OR. Usually classic rock. Stones, Creedence, Zeppelin, Marley, Beatles, etc. The Grateful Dead too.

Dr. Drew Schnitt   Dr. Drew Schnitt - Hollywood FL

Yes, I always listen to music in the OR. I usually listen to Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM, or YouTube, and the genres can range from top 40, alternative, EDM, and jazz.

Dr. Josef Hadeed   Dr. Josef Hadeed - Beverly Hills

I listen to a variety. Rock, occasional 90's/early 2000's hip-hop, and country. No heavy metal or talk radio.

Dr. Eric Emerson   Dr. Eric Emerson - Gastonia


Evolution of Musical Tastes in the OR

Classical music is the most requested (58%) music in the OR according to the 2008 study.

The 2014 study humorously suggests tracks such as Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees, Smooth Operator by Sade, Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd, and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham.

According to the 2017 survey conducted by Spotify and Figure 1, rock is the most popular genre of music surgeons listen to while operating (49%), followed closely by pop (48%), classical music (43%—down from 58% in 2008), jazz (24%) and R&B (21%). Here is a playlist of top rock songs that appear often on playlists of the surgeons surveyed.

Given the choice, what music would you want your surgeon to be listening to during YOUR Top Surgery? Leave a comment below!

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