As early as 4,000BC, harp-playing priests and musicians played ‘hallelujah to the healer’ as part of payment for medicinal services.
And 100 years ago, an American surgeon Evan Kane, who went on to become the first to remove his own appendix, recommended playing music in the operating theatre to distract patients from the “horror of their situation”.
Yet few, if any, of the thousands of people today undergoing operations at hospitals across the country will have asked their surgeon what music they intend to play while they are under the knife.
A study published today in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) considers the most appropriate tunes to be played in operating theatres amid evidence music - mainly classical works - now features in around two-thirds of surgery.
A surgical team from University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff suggests popular tracks which could be considered for an operating theatre playlist - among them Smooth Operator by Sade, Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd, Un-break My Heart by Toni Braxton, and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!, which they recommend is best played as patients come round after surgery.
Also top of the surgical pops is Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, which is also commonly used as a metronome to give the correct compression rate during cardiac arrests.
They say theatre staff report music benefits communication between team members, reduces anxiety and improves efficiency. It could also increase the focus of surgeons, particularly those who listen to music regularly.
Studies have suggested relaxing melodies mimicking the resting heartbeat can help patients even in intensive care. And it has also been shown to relieve pain.
The authors add: “Surgeons will inevitably continue to use music as a calming and familiar adjunct to their daily practice.
“Although the intangible value of patient and practitioner preferences should not be overlooked, noise levels should be monitored and balanced to ensure minimal potential for interfering with communication.
“We, however, embrace music in the operating theatre whenever the situation allows it.”
A second study in The BMJ finds doctors are frequently mentioned in pop lyrics - although not always in a flattering light.
Only around a third of songs show doctors as carer or healer, and most relate to a metaphorical role in curing love sickness and broken hearts.
Just as frequently, doctors are portrayed as having unprofessional relationships with patients.
Some songs portray medics as money-grabbing, and a few suggest they deal in illicit drugs, as inferred in the Beatles’ Dr Robert.
Overall, it finds popular music shows scant sympathy for the profession. An exception is Bob Dylan’s Motorpsycho Nightmare in which the singer is accused of being a travelling salesman.
“No,” he says, “I’m a doctor, and it’s true. I’m a clean cut kid, and I been to college too.”