Press Play in the OR

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Music and surgery have been linked in the popular imagination for as long as I can remember. In the early 00’s, music had a starring role in a popular TV show about surgeons. And some of the best hitmakers—like Dr. Dre and Dr. John—have that moniker because their talent is unparalleled. Without a doubt, surgeons and musicians have deft fingers and impressive tactile skills, sometimes even insuring their hands for millions of dollars. But do surgeons really use music like Hollywood often portrays? And does an incredible playlist help some doctors concentrate?

The answer is yes, yes and yes!


As a licensed music therapist, I know that music is often used to help patients recover from a variety of surgeries, including cancer removal, hip replacements, cardiovascular operations and transplants. It helps reduce anxiety and is clinically proven to increase healing times. Music is also extremely beneficial to caregivers and people with dementia, as well as babies.)

Knowing this, a colleague and I conducted a completely unscientific poll of real life friends, social work graduate students and social media followers about music, surgery and recovery. We asked everyone to guess what genre of music most physicians listen to in the operating room (OR)—if, in fact, music is played at all.

So how did people respond? The top three answers were classical, rock and jazz (in that order.) Apparently, a lot of people assume their doctors prefer to Rock Me Amadeus. Someone worried that a surgeon might be tempted to perform an air guitar solo mid-procedure. Someone else is convinced her new found Rolling Stones fandom is because her surgeon played the band’s music while she was under anesthesia for knee surgery.

I shared those and other answers with Dr. Jaspreet Sekhon, MD, FAAOS, a NYC-based orthopedic surgeon who performs arthroscopic procedures at Mount Sinai. Full disclosure: some of Sekhon’s patients receive physical and occupational therapy at Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care, where I work.

Dr. Sekhon’s answers didn’t disappoint.

Dancehall Doc

While training as a resident physician, Sekhon said about 90 percent of the surgeons he worked under believed the research that says using music can be beneficial in the OR. Based on what he observed, learned and experienced, he decided to incorporate background music every single time he operates.

Sekhon, or “Dancehall Doctor,” as he’s known to colleagues, prefers hearing a mix of 90’s Reggae while he operates. Sometimes his DJ friends create special surgery mixes for him. Lest you think Sekhon spends a lot of time creating playlists, he assures me that his surgical team sets up the music prior to each procedure. Musical selections are based on the surgery’s intensity.

For example, a more difficult procedure will have slower tempo music playing in the background, while a more routine procedure may include tunes that are light and upbeat. And, no, the dancehall doc doesn’t bust a move in the OR. However, he says the music keeps him focused, happy and optimistic. It also helps his assistants and other colleagues stay sharp.

Outside of the OR, Sekhon has found that talking about music is great for doctor/patient relationships. It can lead to charming conversations. Some of his patients even tell him when a favorite reggae artist is coming to New York.

Rock and Recover

In my next column, I’ll explore how to incorporate music into a post operation routine. But in the meantime, if you know someone who is scheduled to have a medical procedure, encourage that person to add a playlist to the pre-op conversation. Or, if you’re inspired, create a recovery playlist and share it here and use #musicrx.

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