Before Dr. Benjamin Jacobs begins a carpal tunnel surgery at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, he has a pressing question for patient Mary Lou Connell.
“Mary Lou, is there any kind of music you like to listen to?” Jacobs asks.
Connell answers she likes classic music, and they settle on Frank Sinatra. One member of the operating team jokingly sings “Quando, Quando, Quando,” and Jacobs walks over to his phone that’s plugged into an auxiliary cord. He pulls up Spotify, and selects Sinatra’s “Fly Away.”
“Come fly with me, we’ll fly, we’ll fly away,” Sinatra sings over the operating room speakers.
Now the surgery can begin.
People like to listen to music when they work, and surgeons are no different. Music is so commonplace during surgeries that 90 percent of nearly 700 surgeons and other health care professionals said they listen to music during operations, according to a 2017 survey by Spotify and Figure 1.
The 10 most played rock songs by surgeons, according to Spotify and Figure 1.
1. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” Scorpions
2. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” Guns N’ Roses
3. “Just What the Doctor Ordered” Ted Nugent
4. “Break on Through to the Other Side” The Doors
5. “Paint It Black” The Rolling Stones
6. “Whole Lotta Love” Led Zeppelin
7. “We Will Rock You” Queen
8. “Back in Black” AC/DC
9. “Cocaine” Eric Clapton
10. “The Wind Cries Mary” Jimi Hendrix
Spotify playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5HKqLEIIwlcj3t4nha4TdD
Studies show that listening to music can improve levels of physiologic stress and enhance surgeons’ performance, as well as act as a tool to promote bonding between surgeons and their operating teams.
The musical choices of surgeons vary greatly. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” was the number one rock song listed. “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton came in ninth (hey, at one time it served a medicinal role). In morbid fashion, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” also appeared frequently. And 2 Live Crew, which at one point had an album banned due to its sexually explicit content, also registered in the survey with its 1991 single “Pop that Coochie.”
Rock was the most popular genre, according to the survey, with 49 percent of respondents listening to it. Pop came in close second (48 percent), then classical (43 percent), jazz (24 percent), and R&B (21 percent) rounding out the top five genres.
Dr. Jared Remmers, the medical director for Legacy Health foot and ankle, says music brings uplift and bounce to the operating room.
“It brings the mood up. Operating rooms are pretty serious places,” Remmers says. “Everyone takes their job very seriously there, but at the same time, it allows for some conversation with people and connections between older surgeons and younger helpers, nurses and things like that, where you can have a conversation about music while you’re doing the surgery, too.”
Jacobs and his staff like to quiz each other about the music that’s playing during surgeries. Remmers says he’s done the same. Jacobs will ask team members about the year an album was recorded or who’s playing each instrument.
“You learn a lot about music because you get quizzed nonstop about music when you’re in training,” Jacobs says. “It’s somewhat universal in that way. Not every doctor listens to music in the operating room, but a lot do. … It’s kind of quiz time when the music is on.”
Jacobs only has one request for his musical choices: no country. Sophie Ellis, his physician assistant, is generally the disk jockey for surgeries, usually selecting a Spotify playlist. They’ll play patient requests if the patient is going to be awake. Ellis likes to close out the day with the Spotify playlist “Hip-Hop BBQ.”
“It should be noted that’s only when the patient is asleep,” Ellis says. “We do local anesthesia, and patients don’t react well to rap in the background.”
But for most part, Ellis chooses whatever will cause the least turbulence.
“I mostly just play what people won’t complain about,” she jokes.
‘Eclectic as people’
Remmers has a variety of tastes. He’s recently seen concerts with alternative rock band Train, rappers G-Eazy and Lil Uzi Vert and also Kendrick Lamar, plus Skillet, a Christian rock band.
“Musical tastes for surgeons are just as eclectic as they are for some people,” Remmers says. “Some people like folk music. Some people like classical. We had one surgeon at (Legacy) Emanuel who was, before he became a medical surgeon, into ballet. He listens to a lot of ballet and opera background tracks. But as someone who likes a lot of music I’ve never found it strange. It’s just personal preference.”
Remmers and Jacobs both mentioned there are points during surgery where they have to turn the music down or off. But they also explained that music isn’t overwhelming, and is kept at a reasonable volume.
“It doesn’t distract me,” Jacobs says. “I think everybody in the room is experienced enough to read the room. When there’s a crucial part of the case, they’ll find me getting quiet usually. The music is kind of in the back. It’s not a central focus of our surgery day, but I think it lightens the mood, keeps everybody going.”
Dr. Carol Bunten, who’s an obstetrician and gynecologist with Vancouver Clinic, is in a unique situation because many of her patients are awake. Music can benefit a woman who’s giving birth, she explained, since it can slow her heart rate, and decrease the release of stress hormones. She says most genre requests in Vancouver are for country.
“Music plays an important role for a lot of patients in helping them to relax and hopefully experience less pain and make their births extra special,” Bunten says.
Another unique circumstance Bunten faces is she generally doesn’t have a way to plug phones into speakers, which means that choices “come down to what we can get on the radio,” she says. That means some accidentally timely songs can pop up, such as Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” during anesthesia.
“It can be pretty funny, too, if you have it on a random station and whatever,” Bunten says. “Some of the music they’ll play ends up being not entirely appropriate. I was doing a surgery the other day and Sheryl Crow’s ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’ came on, so we all had a good laugh about that.”