Listening to music in the OR has become part of many surgeons' routines, and UCLA surgeons are no exception. Isaac Yang, MD, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, estimates that more than 50 percent of his colleagues prefer to operate with music playing in the background.
Dr. Yang, a big fan of music during surgery as a mood-lifter and a way to help himself stay focused, likens it to the daily commute. "Driving is probably the most dangerous activity we do routinely, yet it's an unavoidable daily task. Background music makes that commute more pleasant without being distracting," he says. "That's what having music in the OR is like for me. I've done literally over 1,000 brain surgeries, and while each one is unique, I want everyone in that OR with me to have a sense of it being a routine — but good — day, because that's when we can all do our best work."
Blocking out distractions
Though he knows music can be helpful, Dr. Yang is sensitive to when it might become a distraction. "I want the music on when we're opening and closing — the more routine portions of surgery," he says. "I generally don't want it on for critical portions of the surgery. I need all hands 100 percent on deck mentally with me then."
His musical selections achieve that pleasant-but-not-distracting effect. "Classical music is the most common type of music chosen by surgeons, but that can be intense and not everyone has the same taste," Dr. Yang says. "My tendency is to choose current music, especially teen pop like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift or One Direction. It's generally not offensive and I just want something you can nod along to."
Dr. Yang, the first neurosurgeon to win the National Golden Apple for Teaching Excellence from the American Medical Student Association, acknowledges that not all of his colleagues will enjoy his music. "I'm sure my juniors complain about my taste, but the unspoken rule is that the top surgeon gets to choose the music," he says. "I really like Taylor Swift, what can I say? She's my personal favorite."
Shorter surgical times
Preferences aside, Dr. Yang believes the right music in the OR can even help the patient. "Music makes the OR move a little faster, which means shorter surgical times and less time under anesthesia," he says. "That's a tangible benefit to patients."
He points to an article published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal ("Prospective Randomized Study of the Effect of Music on the Efficiency of Surgical Closures") to emphasis his point. The researchers found that playing preferred music made plastic surgery residents faster in completing a wound closure. In addition, when judged by blinded faculty, the quality of the work improved when done while listening to music.
These results resonate with Dr. Yang. "In neurosurgery, we deal with life and death every day. Yet neurosurgery is the most fun thing I do, and music in the OR makes it even a bit more fun," he says. "When our work becomes fun, that dynamic brings out the very best in everyone, including myself."
By Darcy Lewis