Pink Floyd help surgeon to be a smooth operator

Tools of the trade: Surgeon Julian Roberts at Sheffield Children's Hospital with some of the music he listens to while operating.
Tools of the trade: Surgeon Julian Roberts at Sheffield Children's Hospital with some of the music he listens to while operating.
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Scalpel, check. Forceps, check. Latest Muse album, check?

Most people think of the surgeon’s operating theatre as a clinical haven of sterility and silence, but for Sheffield Children’s Hospital consultant Julian Roberts, music is an important part of his job.

He is one of the 90 per cent of surgeons nationally who listen to music while operating – tunes which can be anything from classical to banging house music.

Mr Roberts said: “Quite a few surgeons listen to music while in theatre, although some are more keen than others.

He said: “I like John Frusciante, King Tubby and Bloc Party. We also listen to Steely Dan, Pink Floyd – and reggae’s quite good for surgery too.

“We occasionally listen to classical music, but only about 15 per cent of us like that. And even fewer people like opera.”

The type of music surgeons listen to is determined by the particular demands of each job, according to Mr Roberts, a consultant paediatric urologist and the hospital’s lead for daycare.

“Sometimes we need calming music and other times we’ll listen to music with more movement,” he said. “If it’s a complicated case we won’t listen to any raucous stuff.”

The operating theatres at Sheffield Children’s Hospital are stacked with CDs given away free with newspapers, along with albums from Mr Roberts’s own collection.

“We have about six or seven CDs we listen to three or four times a day,” he said. “We do have to change the music after a few weeks. At first we say ‘this is really good’ and then you want to put it away after you’ve listened to it several times!”

The music, he says, counters the boredom sometimes experienced in theatre.

He said: “There is an element of boredom in theatre to some degree,.

“So sometimes a beat really gets you into the right frame of mind, a bit like that required for a production line in industry.

“And theatre is a much more normal place than people think. There is chatter going on, even though it is deadly serious at the same time.

“And surgeons tend to have a black sense of humour – it’s a way of coping with the job.”

Mr Roberts discovered music’s medical remedy as a postgraduate student, when revising for anatomy exams.

“If I didn’t listen to music when I was revising I would fall asleep,” he said.

“The music helps me to concentrate.”

But as soon as an operation stops going to plan, the music goes off.

“Music is a good indicator of how smoothly everything is going,” he said.