Empathy in Medicine, Important or not? Can Music make better doctors?

Can music make better doctors?


Being a doctor is often challenging, you need to be both technical and elegant at the same time. For many, doctors are viewed as technicians but I dare to challenge this, I think that being a doctor is much like playing an instrument or doing ballet. It is something beautiful, a skill, yes but also so much more.


Doctors today struggle for more time and are often overworked. Many have long ago lost their passion for the field they once, hopefully, fell in love with. Coming from myself, a simple girl that always had fascination for both medicine and music, I do think music can make better doctors. I’ve played the violin since the age of three and it has taught me many things, such as having passion, working hard, being delicate, and having determination, all traits vital in order to be a good doctor.


There have been several studies observing and investigating how music can help us in our daily lives. If it can help us to study better, to work better or to even relax better. By reading and taking in to account many of these studies and articles, I have found that the most helpful music to listen to is by far classical music preferably pieces by Mozart or Bach. However, the result of listening to music is very individual and not everyone finds it helpful. Some people find it disturbing and simply want quietness surrounding them whilst some find the effect of having music around very stimulating and helpful.


Before starting this essay I’d heard about surgeons listening to classical music in operation rooms, boosting the results of the surgeries by very large measures. This is the reason I chose this subject, I was intrigued by how music has worked its way into our modern day medicine. In an article published in the Huffington Post I found that music in an operating room is chosen by the lead surgeon and is played during roughly 62-72 % of the time surgeries are conducted. The article states that; Roughly 80 percent of operating room staff say that music benefits cooperation between team members, reduces anxiety levels and improves efficiency. Research has also suggested that music may improve surgeons’ task focus. Later in the article a study made in 2009 is discussed. The article, studying 372 patients, found that not only surgeons and doctors but also patients were beneficial from having music playing during surgery. [1]


On one side one can, like, some medical experts argue that classical music can in fact hinder and distract things such as communication and focus during operations. However, on the other side, the group of people arguing against classical music in operation rooms are far fewer than the group preaching its benefits. There are still debates going on whether music is a good thing, a positive thing. The arguments of it not being favorable are very vague in my opinion and they are set forth by the argument that it can be distracting for example novice surgeons or surgeons performing new tasks. [2]


Other articles and studies have also shown that not only surgeons and doctors benefit from music. Even aspiring doctors i.e medical students can also benefit from this aid. Paul Mayne writes in his article in the Western News that classical music improves the communication and analytical skills of medical students. Furthermore, he discusses what medicine and music have in common with each other touching upon the fact that they both require a certain rhythm, He states; “Think of the rhythmic sounds of a percussion instrument. A musician hears a backbeat, while a doctor can learn rhythmical patterns of normal or pathological heart sounds.” He continues to discuss the mixing of these two disciplines to see what the one has to offer the other. There has been a special partnership between the Don Wright Faculty of Music and the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. They have developed a Music & Medicine Workshop. Music’s media relations officer Janis Wallace set the workshop in motion. “For future doctors, the concepts of music can enhance their understanding of anatomy, physiology of breathing and phonation, cardiology and non-verbal cues from their patients,” says Wallace.Practically this means that appreciating music requires a person to really listen carefully to both sound and lyrics. “What better training can there be than to train our students to be good listeners?” Wallace continues.[3]


Continuing to dig around this subject I came across reading Danielle Ofri’s blog (www.Daneilleofri.com) where she writes about her own experiences as a doctor. She states that many doctors at the hospital she worked at played instruments and she found that there was also a doctor’s orchestra in New York City. Danielle Ofri refers to Mark Jude Tramo, a neurologist, songwriter/musician and director of The Institute for Music and Brain Science at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital who says “there is an overlap between the emotional and social aspects of relating to sick patients and communicating emotion to others through music. Some would speculate that there is [also] an overlap between aptitude for science, which most premeds major in, and for music.”[4] And I agree with his statement. Being a doctor and having empathy for patients are skills you have to train and develop and it can be helped by music.


In another article anesthesiologist and researcher Jonathan Katz wrote in a 2014 October issue of the Journal Anesthesiology that “Music is a special type of noise” regarding the discussion of whether music in operating rooms is good or bad. His conclusion was that music in operating rooms help mask more stressful noises like beeps from machines, which is helpful both for patients and surgical staff. He also states that listening to music helps surgeons stay calmer and work more efficiently at least according to a majority of studies made. [5]


In conclusion I feel that it’s safe to say that the positives of having classical music in an operating room seem to overcome the negatives by all means. But it’s not only beneficial for surgeons but for medical students training to be all kinds of doctors not only specifying to future surgeons. Nevertheless, music calms, sooths and makes us focused. Since medicine is such a tough field where stress and hard work is something to deal with everyday music can definitely help with relaxation and concentration. And accordingly help with the empathetic aspect of the daily work. Doctors and musicians are not very different, they both spend their entire life learning more about their work and their skills can always improve. They both are or at least should be very passionate about what they do. I also do believe music has helped me as a medical student, by listening to classical music I can enter a so-called “flow zone” where I can completely and entirely focus on the task I have at hand which will probably help me in the future as well.


On a final note I do believe music can make better doctors, as we can clearly tell that music helps reducing stress and boosts for example communication amongst surgical staff. This meaning that the results of surgery by all means should be better, hence making us able to say that music does make better doctors.



BY: Isabella Pandzic 


 1: MD Glatter Robert, Can studying art help Medical Students Become Better Doctors? Forbes, October 20, 2013 http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2013/10/20/can-studying-art-help-medical-students-become-better-doctors/&refURL=https://www.google.pl/&referrer=https://www.google.pl/

 2: Mayne Paul, Can music make better doctors?,Western News, Vol 43 No.5, February 8, 2007


 3: MD Ofri Danielle, What doctors can learn rom Musicians, The New York Times, February 3, 2012


 4: MD Ofri Danielle, Music and Medicine, Originally Published in The Lancet, Vol 373, January 10, 2009


 5: Strickland-Smith Kiona, Should Doctors Be Allowed To Listen to Music During Surgery?Gizmodo.com, 13 November 2015




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