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Songs of the Operating Theatre

Songs of the Operating Theatre

Surgeons from the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff have been looking at which songs make for better listening in the operating theatre. And using this information, they have come up with a list of Dos and Do-Nots for them to work to.

Of course, the song list is only meant to be a bit of Christmas fun, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t real research behind it. The research was carried out by Dr David C Bosanquet, Dr James CD Glasbey and Dr Raphael Chavez at the hospital and was published in the festive edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The trio carried out 372 random trials on patients having elective surgery, noting that music was played in the operating theatre between 62% and 72% of the time. Predictably, the lead surgeons were most likely to have chosen the selected music.

According to the findings, around 80% of staff working in the theatres agreed that music helps them as they go about their work. It was suggested that music helps to improve communication between the workers, as well as reducing anxiety and improving overall efficiency.

Surgical performances were reported to be enhanced when music was playing in the background, by increasing the focus of the surgeons on the task at hand. This was shown to be particularly true for doctors who regularly listened to music while they worked.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, classical music is favoured in the theatres. It is thought that this is because classical music doesn’t have any lyrics and has previously been shown to help the listener become more “mentally vigilant”.

Certain songs and types of song have been shown to work better for different situations, from being prepped for an operation to waking up to recovery. These benefits were also seen to extend to patients who required ventilation in intensive care.

Overall, it was found that the type of music to be played (if any is played at all) depends on the different operating teams. However, there are a couple of songs that everyone agrees should be played at certain times (or shouldn’t be played at all!).

For example, when someone is in pain, or about to be, listening to REM’s Everybody Hurts is not going to be on the top of their list of things they want to do. Similarly, drifting off to sleep under anaesthetic to Another One Bites the Dust by Queen isn’t going to be good for that person’s nerves.

“We embrace music in the operating theatre whenever the situation allows it,” concluded the study authors in their paper. “We suggest tunes likely to resonate harmoniously with the operating environment, alongside musical faux pas best avoided.”

So, if there comes a time when you are facing the operating table, why not think about the type of music your surgeon might be listening to while they do their thing. Maybe you could even make a couple of suggestions… Staying Alive by the BeeGees, perhaps, or Sade’s Smooth Operator.


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