Patient Referral

How to Use Humor in a Healthcare Setting

humor in healthcare

They say “laughter is the best medicine,” but it has to be used carefully when caring for an individual facing a terminal diagnosis. While the situation is clearly no laughing matter, when humor is used appropriately, it can improve the patient’s state of mind and build a bridge between the patient and healthcare providers.

Effective Use of Humor in Healthcare

Using humor effectively with patients requires tact and sensitivity. A good way to feel out a patient’s sense of humor is to start with self-deprecating humor. Laugh at yourself and let them laugh with you.

Listen to your patients and observe their response. Healthcare providers are often interacting with patients at a time in their life when they are at their most vulnerable. It is important to be sensitive to their fear and frustration. However, when you make that humorous connection with a patient, it can lighten the room and allow connections to develop more quickly. Shared humor should not replace care and concern. It should add to it.

humor and healthcare

Things to Remember When Using Humor at End of Life

It is important to maintain boundaries with patients and follow their lead when it comes to humor in healthcare settings. When working with patients who have received a terminal diagnosis, remember that they may not respond well to humor until they have accepted their diagnosis. In these situations, you cannot expect humor to cajole them out of depression or anger. Similarly, if the patient is nauseous or in pain, they probably won’t feel like laughing. Time your humor appropriately.

Don’t makes jokes at someone else’s expense or use humor that can be considered offensive – including sexual jokes and jokes about race, culture, politics or religion. If a patient engages in offensive humor, acknowledge the joke, but gently let them know that you don’t enjoy that type of humor.

Respect the wishes of your patient and their family. If they don’t respond well to humor and would prefer a more serious environment, turn off the playfulness and focus on providing the straightforward professionalism they need.

humor as healthcare coping

Humor as a Professional Coping Mechanism

Working with terminally ill patients is an incredibly rewarding profession, but it can also be very emotional for staff who have grown close to patients who pass away. Humor can be an effective release, and those who work in a healthcare setting often engage in dark, morbid humor which allows them to create an emotional distance from the stress of caregiving.

While this kind of humor creates bonds among colleagues, it is important to remember that patients should always be treated and discussed with respect – even when they are not present.

Whether healthcare providers are with patients or colleagues, humor is a powerful coping tool that shouldn’t be overlooked as a way to create stronger connections.

Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides care and support to patients and their families facing serious, life-limiting or potentially life-limiting illnesses. To learn more about the services we provide, please call 1-888-564-3405.


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