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Doctors rock out in the operating room
August 15th, 2011
07:41 AM ET

Doctors rock out in the operating room

Anthony Youn, M.D., is a plastic surgeon in Metro Detroit. He is the author of “In Stitches,” a humorous memoir about growing up Asian American and becoming a doctor.

Confession. I listen to Lady Gaga in the operating room.

Except when I do a facelift.

Contrary to popular belief, the operating room is not a quiet, intense place where all you hear is the beeping of the anesthesia machine and an occasional grunt from the surgeon. Most ORs are filled with music - classical, country, pop, rock, heavy metal, even hard-core gangster rap.

The few studies that have analyzed the effects of music in the OR found that music generally has a positive influence on a surgeon’s performance. President Bill Clinton must have known this when he requested music by Jimmy Buffett and Lyle Lovett for his tendon repair surgery in 1997.

Does it matter what type of music your surgeon plays? Apparently.

A study published in "Surgical Endoscopy" last year found that classical music affected surgeons more positively than hard rock or heavy metal. Another study published by "Surgical Innovation" named hip-hop and reggae the music that most benefited surgeons’ performances.

It probably comes down to taste, with surgeons finding comfort and inspiration working to the music they like to hear. And music doesn’t just affect doctors.

Multiple studies indicate that patients dig music, too. They appear more relaxed, require less anesthesia and recover quicker when physicians play tunes in the OR.

And a study published in "Injury" in 2008 found that nearly 80% of operating room support staff believed music had a positive effect on their work as well.

Or course, there’s always a flip side.

I have spent time in a few operating rooms where I believe the music created a negative impact.

I once worked with an orthopedic surgeon whose massive boom box blared Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All” at the decibel level of a jet engine while he pounded a rod into a patient’s leg bone with a large surgical hammer.

I also know a surgeon who plays hard-core rap laced with graphic curse words guaranteed to shock, offend and annoy the nurses. This music doesn’t relax anyone in the OR.

Instead, it puts everyone on edge.

Probably the worst offender I’ve come across was a surgeon I worked with in residency who repeat-played the same CD by Phil Collins all day long. To this day, I’d rather poke my eyes out with a dull pencil than listen to “Sussudio” ever again.

So what kind of music do I play in the operating room? Depends.

I try to match the music on my iPod to the surgery I perform. For procedures that demand high intensity and concentration, like facelifts, I play softer, acoustic music, such as the Indigo Girls or Billy Joel.

For surgeries that can be more repetitious and physically-demanding, like liposuction, I put on faster music that energizes me, such as Lady Gaga or '80’s hair bands. For everything else, I go with my main man, Jimmy Buffett.

Bottom line, in my operating room, to relax me and my staff, boost morale and relieve the monotony of repetitive surgeries, I turn up the music.

One exception: That sensitive time when the nurse wheels the patient into the operating room, right before the patient falls asleep.

Patients often arrive in surgery nervous and scared. This is when I turn the volume down and play music that creates a calm, soothing environment. Best to avoid certain songs during this sensitive transition into unconsciousness.

I would hate to have the last song my patient hears before going under be “Let It Bleed,” “Take My Breath Away” or - God forbid - “Don’t Fear The Reaper.”

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