The healing power of laughter is well documented. For nurses, it’s critical to building trust and communication with coworkers and patient. Here: some do’s and don’ts for joking with patients.
You’ve heard of gallows humor? Well, nurses have their own special brand. It’s dark, it’s raunchy, and it’s often peppered with a vocabulary worthy of longshoremen. But it’s not surprising, is it?
Books have even been written on the subject. Here are a few titles from Amazon (We make no reviews or recommendations, but you can check them out for yourself).
- Bedlam Among the Bedpans: Humor in Nursing
by Amy Y. Young
- Oh Sh*t, I Almost Killed You! A Little Book of Big Things Nursing School Forgot to Teach You
by Sonja M. Schwartzbach, BSN, RN, CCRN
- Nurse Coloring Book: Sweary Midnight Edition – A Totally Relatable Swear Word Adult Coloring Book Filled with Nurse Problems (Coloring Book Gift Ideas) (Volume 2)
by Adult Coloring World
Any job involving intense stress tends to produce a dark stream of work-related humor. Nurses often experience things that are beyond the normal human ability to cope, and they have to work through even the worst crises to provide the best care they can. Later, when the trauma subsides, they process these events as the “new normal,” so they can wake up and face it again tomorrow.
But there are also other functions for humor, as a bonding mechanism with other health care providers, and especially with patients. Humor is an especially effective tool against fear.
A 2014 study of patient perceptions of nursing humor in the palliative care setting found they welcomed the opportunity to laugh with their nurse, and a series of other studies found it universally beneficial. The one caveat seemed to be determining what was and wasn’t appropriate humor.
Between Nurse and Patient
The line between funny and insensitive is a muted shade of gray that not everyone can see, and once you go too far, the consequences can be awkward and undermine the patient’s attitude toward you and the care you give. You want to be yourself, but how do you know when a joke is acceptable?
Here are some do’s and don’ts for joking with patients.
- get too personal (avoid talking about their weight, family members, personal history, etc)
- be nasty or critical
- judge patients (or anyone else)
- confuse them (by pretending they got the wrong med, etc.)
- be gentle
- be a little personal (Hey, looks like you did your hair in your sleep today!)
- keep jokes general (the weather, what’s on TV…)
- tell funny stories meant to distract
- joke about yourself (again, nothing too personal)
And one unbreakable rule is to never joke with patients about other staff or the institution—you never know what will get back to your superiors!
There is no training for being funny at work, but you might still want to check these sources for information.
Last updated on 9/22/19.