Humor in Medicine

Howard J. Bennett, MD


South Med J. 2003;96(12) 

In This Article


Humor has the potential to relieve stress in patients and medical professionals. Humor gives patients the opportunity to forget about their anxiety and pain, if only for a brief period of time. When doctors share humor with patients, they create lines of communication that encourage patients to discuss difficult issues. In effect, humor can put both parties at ease in a way that more formal types of communication cannot.[71] Medical professionals also use humor to deal with the tension that results from working in the modern medical environment. Doctors acquire their signature humor while in medical school. This behavior continues as students complete their training and begin working in the health care system. It is seen in the banter and jokes one witnesses on the wards and even in the humor doctors publish in the medical literature. Despite the preliminary work in this area, many questions remain. Do patients want their physicians to use humor on a regular basis in clinical interactions? Do physicians think that the medical literature is an appropriate forum for humor that satirizes the profession? Will the health benefits of humor be substantiated in future, well-controlled research? Only time and effort will answer these questions. It seems that at least in some areas, however, humor is off to a good start.