Music in Medicine: Not Just for the Surgeons

Earlier this month, I had a conversation with a family member about her observation that many physicians are musicians. A few days later, I encountered an interesting blog post by Rahul Parikh, MD entitled “The Truth about Music in the Operating Room,” which included interesting facts about the relationship between music and medicine. For example, there are studies that have shown more steady vital signs in doctors performing surgeries to music – even with rock music.

It seems obvious that the manual dexterity and discipline required of musicians would be requirements for surgeons, as well. As a musician, myself, I recall being drawn to procedural specialties during medical school. Once I had the unique opportunity to “open” a case with a gynecologist performing a laparoscopic tubal ligation because all of the residents were at a conference. My attending was closely monitoring me, of course, but the patient was in the good, steady hands of a pianist/clarinetist. Aside from the technical aspects, operations performed to music seemed to be associated with better communication, a calmer environment, and a greater sense of teamwork.  

Surgeons are not the only physicians who can benefit from music during the workday, although it seems they are the only ones afforded the ideal venue, with a “protected” space and time during their procedures. Listening to music while seeing 20+ patients a day is possible and not as distracting as one may think. What’s more, doing so might just keep a physician sane.

At one point, I had a small space in a room with both an ARNP and RN. Phone calls and conversations were very distracting. But I found that listening to music kept me focused on my tasks. (Other publications have referred to studies that corroborate this effect). Of course, I used earphones to keep from bothering my officemates, which probably reduced unnecessary interruptions, as well. Even if there is limited time, as little as two measures of a favorite melody can not only calm you, but reconnect you to your human side, the one most important to relating to your patients. Without that side, after all, it would be easy to function as a robot, seeing patient after patient after patient. It’s not for everyone, however. For example, physicians who do not regularly listen to or feel a particular benefit from music may be more distracted by it.

The true value of music is in the way it takes us outside of ourselves and our narrow minds and repetitive thoughts.  This is important during and outside of our workday. Music encourages creativity, calmness, inspiration, and productivity. What more can you ask for in the work environment? It even inspires me as I write this blog post….

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5 thoughts on “Music in Medicine: Not Just for the Surgeons

  1. […] I have written before about music and medicine and its value for a physician. It is very personal, as well. Music is inextricable with my life. Having started playing the piano at age 5 or 6, then the clarinet in grade school (and then other endeavors best left to be discussed in person), I have learned much about life through musicianship. Three years ago, I took up the guitar and have been hooked since. I was fortunate to be undertaken by an excellent teacher who possesses equal patience for a busy physician who tries her best to be practice and for 4-year-olds with significantly limited attention spans. […]

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