Dr. Oz on Why Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga & More Are Must-Haves on His Surgery Playlist: Exclusive

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Dr. Oz

While a soundtrack for surgeons has long been an operating room standard, the practice of music being used during surgeries for the benefit of the patient has yet to become a staple of Grey’s Anatomy scripts.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, director of the Integrative Medicine Center at Columbia University, employs the practice with his surgery patients and has become an ardent advocate for doing so. (Recent studies have indicated that music can lessen the need for sedation and reduce pain and anxiety.)

Billboard spoke to Oz, whose The Dr. Oz Show is in its eighth season, about the medical benefits of a surgical soundtrack, and his favorite surgery tracks.

What made you begin offering music to your patients?

It came to me actually because we were playing it for ourselves. Doctors were using music to get themselves psyched up. I played sports in college and I always played music to get myself ready so I thought, why wouldn’t I do the exact same thing? Patients starting noticing that we had music and they were curious if we were playing it in the operation.

I thought, "We should be smart about this. If we can change the music to match the needs of the patient, [outcomes] would be even better." So I began doing experiments -- this was twenty years ago -- where I would identify a patient that I thought would benefit from a specific kind of procedure. We began studying it by giving people different audio tapes and we would play different messages via the audio tapes. The most provocative results were from experiments played directly in the patient's ear.

When did you begin allowing patients input into it?

In the mid ‘90s. We would give every patient a choice -- we would give them a Sony Walkman, put [headphones] on their ears, and they could choose one of three programs they could use. Depending on what kind of music they liked to listen to, we would mix it up that way and put it on their heads. More than a thousand people a year have surgery with us so a lot of people got audio tapes, and we had a whole system. The anesthesiologist would put them on the patient’s ears as soon as they went to sleep.

We’d take them with the tapes to the recovery room. As soon as they were extubated, the breathing tube was pulled out, we’d take the [headphones] off of them. We didn’t want them to have it outside of the Operating Room. But when they were under anesthesia we wanted them to use it.

What did you observe in terms of results?

The biggest difference was pain. See, pain is an interesting problem. To deal with the root cause of pain, you really need to numb the area locally, which is hard to do because I’m working on your heart. The bone that I break is not easy to make immediately better. Or we could numb you to the effect of pain, which is by giving you narcotics -- which we’ve got a huge crisis with now in America because people are susceptible [to addiction].

We thought, "If I can get you to be calm about the pain you’re having then you won’t need to take as many pain pills. If I can get you to meditate through your pain, or if I can use your subconscious to convince you that you’re not really feeling the pain as much as you think you are..." That’s like when you’re playing in the middle of a game, and you sprain something, you don’t even notice it. Afterwards, you say, "Oh my goodness, my ankle hurts me," but you weren’t aware that you hurt it. Your adrenaline was flowing, you were psyched up, you weren’t thinking about your ankle.

Are any types of music that you would discourage or that could be detrimental?

No, I think it’s up to the patient. If you’re trying to get someone to stay calm, [though], I wouldn’t play Led Zeppelin. Kid Rock does not relax you. But there are other times that you want that. You want to get up and move.

Has music always been an important part of your life?

I took ten years of piano lessons, I used to play in recitals. I’m Turkish, so my specialty was the Turkish Minuet. My sister and I would have to do duets together. I’m a fairly early adopter, so as soon as Sonos came out, we had that everywhere, and we’ve had systems before that allowed every room in my house to have music.

Turks come from Central Asia and in Central Asia healers always used music. In fact, historically healers, doctors, shamans always had music as part of their repertoire. They used the music -- it was part of their culture and heritage, but they always used it in their healing. So why would we not do that today?

Dr. Oz’s Surgery Playlist:

“Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran: “If I was going to get someone to get up and move and work out, I’d put Ed Sheeran on. Put 'Shape of You' on and just go with it.” 

“Despacito,” Luis Fonsi: “I work at Columbia [University] and there’s a large Spanish speaking population [amongst patients]. So 'Despacito,' that’s primarily in Spanish. It speak to the heritage you have. That psychs you up.

“The Cure,” Lady Gaga: “It’s not just the words, it’s also sometimes the tunes that will get you into it. Lady Gaga’s great.”

“Money Ain’t a Thang,” JD ft. Jay Z: “In the beginning of the operation, I want to play music to get their chest open, which is more aggressive -- it can be hip-hop.”

“Born in the USA,” Bruce Springsteen: “I’m a big fan of Springsteen, and I like his ballads because they take you to a soulful place. If you put 'Born in the USA' on, it sort of helps you process the life you’re living that may not be what you thought of."