That CNN headline grabbed my attention and got me to read a column that basically chastises the 17 percent of internal medicine residents who reported they had laughed at patient in a survey published in JAMA.
The author then goes on to express great relief that 94 percent of those who find humor in their patients considered it unprofessional behavior.
Lighten up! Of course, no doctor — or any professional for that matter — should laugh in a patient or client’s face or use humor maliciously. That’s basic human decency.
But humor is a release, and in a work environment as stressful as a
hospital, people need a release. Maybe that release should occur
outside the hospital walls, but funny things occur in stressful
environments and people do strange things that often merit a chuckle or
The author hints that this irreverence may harm patient care. Humor
that is inappropriate or disrespectful may indicate a culture less open
to quality improvement. But I would suggest that the whole notion that
doctors should be above finding humor– albeit appropriate humor
— in their work environment, of which patients comprise a huge part,
suggests they are greater than human and puts them on a pedestal.
Doctors are human. Humans are imperfect. Humans find comfort in
humor, and humans make errors. Thus, it is critical to create systems
that reduce as much as possible the potential for error.
I welcome your comments, particularly from the doctors and nurses out there.