Spotify and Figure 1 team up to hear what surgeons are playing in the OR

Dr. Ramin Eskandari, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Medical University of South Carolina, is a fan of reggae in the OR.

If you’re about to perform open-heart surgery, you should be listening to classical music. Bone fractures call for heavy rock, elective cases are ideal for EDM, the cath lab calls for something more mellow, and trauma lends itself to R&B.

These are some of the listening habits of nearly 700 surgeons and other healthcare professionals, according to a new survey conducted by Figure 1 in partnership with Spotify. Surgeons from more than 50 countries shared their professional music preferences in an in-app questionnaire throughout the month of June.

Of the surgeons and surgical residents who responded, 90% said they listened to music while operating. Rock and pop were the most popular genres, on the playlists of 49% and 48% of respondents respectively. Classical came next at 43%, with jazz at 24% and R&B selected by 21% of respondents.

No matter the genre, the surgeons surveyed reported that music helped them focus by relieving tension in the operating room and relaxing the whole surgical team.

“Music induces an almost trance-like state of focus,” said Dr. Patrick Beeman, a OB/GYN in Cleveland who uses Figure 1 as @insidetheboards. “That might be the reason why so many people listen to something while they operate, because you need a sort of single-mindedness when you’re operating. But at the same time, any sort of surgical case has the potential to be fraught with anxiety and you sometimes have very important competing interests hanging in the balance. Music has a calming effect. Especially by providing familiarity.”

On at least one occasion, Dr. Beeman’s preferences have helped him connect with patients.

“When I was a second or third year resident, we had a 15 or 16-year-old female who came into labor,” Dr. Beeman recalls. “It was her first pregnancy, so she obviously didn’t have a lot of support from a social perspective. She was scared. I asked the patient what music she liked and she mentioned Coheed. Now all my friends will universally make fun of my personal music choices because it’s what high schoolers listen to. One of my favorite bands happens to be Coheed and Cambria. So I started to play some Coheed from my iPhone for the patient and had her focus on that while we did the cervical check. I gained some good rapport from doing that.”

Of course, there are times when silence is required. Surgeons reported turning the music down when training younger doctors, when there are complications, and during critical points in the surgery.

And there are songs that, when played in the OR, may well distract from the business at hand. Some of the more surprising tracks heard in the operating room include 2 Live Crew’s Pop That, Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust, and Rose Tattoo by The Dropkick Murphys.

(“I had an older, male doctor during residency who played entire Madonna albums during surgery,” said one orthopedic surgeon. “I hate to stereotype people, but it was surprising because he DID NOT seem the Madonna type.”)

Here are ten of the playlists shared by the surgeons of Figure 1, along with their rationales for their choices:

The Classical Cardiac Surgeon

Specialty: Cardiac surgery

Age: 20-29

Years of practice: 2

Preferred genres: Classical. “I’m doing only cardiac surgery so Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Chopin are the best.”

How does music affect your performance? “It makes me more relaxed.”

Is there a point at which you turn it off? “When complications appear. You need to be 100% focused.”

The Yachting Otolaryngologist

Specialty: Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

Age: 30-39

Years of practice: 5

Preferred genres: “The relaxing sounds of Yacht Rock and/or Boy Bands allow me to focus on the surgery I am performing while maintaining a stress-free operating room environment.”

Is there a point at which you turn it off? “Generally I do not turn down the radio. However, during intubation and extubation or if I am trying to communicate with anyone in the operating room and the music is too loud for effective communication, the music is turned down.”

The Poppy Pediatric Surgeon

Specialty: Pediatric surgery

Age: 40-49

Years of practice: 15

Preferred genres: “‘80s, ‘90s, and current pop music.”

Is there a point at which you turn it off? “When the patient is being prepared for anesthesia.”

What’s the most unexpected song you’ve heard in the OR? “Heavy metal.”

The Alternative Oncologist

Specialty: Surgical oncology