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Humour is universal in health care. Doctors and nurses crack jokes and tease one another, just like people in any walk of life. We use humour with patients to lighten the mood, or simply to show we are human. Most of us give little thought to the whys and wherefores of humour in medical settings. This is probably just as well: the last thing we need is to have training courses for medics in how to tell jokes. However, I recently taught on a course for paramedics and was struck by their continual light-hearted banter. I learned that there is a well-established culture of humour in their profession.1 ,2 ,3 Their job involves working at a very fast pace, bringing them into daily contact with trauma and tragedy, and they regard humour as essential in order to sustain their morale. Their use of humour develops progressively alongside clinical experience and, according to one researcher, becomes “an adaptive method for coping with stress”.4 Discovering this led me to look more closely at the whole phenomenon of humour in health care, and the pros and cons of using it.
Psychologists have identified two broad categories of humour. One is aimed at enhancing relationships with others, and the other designed to boost oneself. Each of …
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