Special Article
April 26, 2004

Humor in the Physician-Patient Encounter

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2004 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2004

Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(8):825-830. doi:10.1001/archinte.164.8.825

Medicine is serious business, but physicians have always tried to balance the heavier aspects of their work with humor and lightness. Hippocrates,1 for example, wrote that physicians should cultivate a serious and respectable image, but at the same time he advised them to use wit in interacting with their patients because "dourness is repulsive both to the healthy and to the sick." While humor is frequent in the clinical setting, much of it occurs among professionals, rather than within the physician-patient relationship. Such humor arises in response to the difficult and stressful situations that occur in medicine and takes the form of irony, "put-downs," and gallows humor. In this article, we focus on the use of humor as a timeless mode of communication between physicians and patients, and we review the benefits and risks of humor in today's pressured physician-patient encounters.