Prof & Pupil: Do you listen to music in the operating room?

I remember a few times as a medical student, my surgical attending asked me to "put on some music." If you've ever had to DJ for a roadtrip or a small get-together, you know how difficult that kind of request might be. What kind of music does everyone like? How can I possibly please everyone? At least for friends, the music I play won't hurt anyone, but in the operating room, the stakes are higher; any possible distraction might lead to an adverse outcome. Despite the potential issues, it does seem that many surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists feel that music helps set a calmer mood and raise focus levels. I got a chance to ask Dr. Sridhar about his experiences (spoiler: he doesn't like certain types of music!!).


LC: Hi Dr. Sridhar, I recently read this article suggesting that learning motor skills with music actually can make our brain form stronger white matter connections . I've noticed a lot of ophthalmologists listen to music while they operate. Do you usually listen to music in the OR, or is it something that you have no preference on? 

JS: Super interesting article Louie. I got used to listening to music in the operating room as a fellow, and there are several benefits; the white matter connections are just icing on the cake! First of all, many of our surgeries are done under monitored local anesthesia. The patient receives sedation for relaxation and local anesthesia to the operative eye  but is otherwise awake and listening. Most patients prefer to have some music to relax further during the surgery. Second, the room atmosphere is appreciably different with harmonies in the air instead of silence only broken by the ominous beeping of a heart rate monitor. The staff is more relaxed, and that allows everyone to do their job in a more efficient and patient-centered manner. Third, I think having that Pavlovian cue that when the music starts = it's time to operate helps a surgeon feel mentally ready to tackle whatever challenge the surgery presents.

LC: How do you decide what kind of music gets played? What do you usually end up listening to? 

JS: I think that if the patient is awake for the case their taste takes precedence so they are most comfortable. Otherwise I defer to the rest of the operating room and only exercise veto power for country and rap.

An example of Dr. Sridhar's favorite genre of music. 

LC: Could you see music having any positive or negative impacts for you when you’re actually performing surgical techniques? I’m imagining that certain types of music could put you into the zone, others might relax you, others might hype you up… etc.. What do you think? 

JS: Another great question. There has to be a lot of variability surgeon to surgeon. I do not think certain types of music are better at different points of the surgery, but then again I would have never expected the research findings in the article that inspired this back-and-forth. I think for me personally the slower more relaxed Muzak type fare can dull the energy in the room. During more intricate or higher-risk maneuvers I prefer to have the volume and overall noise in the room down to a background level. Otherwise, I am fairly low maintenance.


Here's what other Retina Surgeons had to say!! 

Question: Do you listen to music while operating? If so, what kind, and do you operate better with it?

  1. Gangster Rap. 
  2. Hahaha Yes Music. Pop if MAC, late 90's early 2000s hip hop if general. I do operate better with it. 
  3. Yessir. Hip hop, Top 40s, old school R&B. Better. If the case isn't going well then I turn it down. 
  4. Yes. Usually whatever the nurse puts on but thinking now to create my own lists with pop/acoustic. 
  5. Yes. Michael Jackson if MAC, hip hop BBQ on pandora. Better with music. 
  6. Yes. Pearl Jam, Outkast, anything the tech/nurse wants. Better with music. 



Jayanth SridharComment