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Enhancing the Nurse-Patient Relationship with Humor

Enhancing the Nurse-Patient Relationship With Humor

Everyone loves to laugh. People seek out comedy on television, in movies, or even on the internet. However, people are less comfortable with humor in healthcare settings. Certainly, a patient’s tragic diagnosis or the loss of a loved one is no laughing matter; but there are times when humor can be beneficial. Research shows that the use of humor in nursing can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life and overall prognosis by helping them heal and cope. According to the AMA Journal of Ethics, “Abundant evidence documents positive physical and psychological health benefits of humor.” Moreover, humor has both short-term benefits, like relieving stress, soothing tension and stimulating organs, and long-term benefits, like relieving pain, improving your mood and boosting the immune system.

The Use of Humor in Nursing

In 2013, researchers Tanay, Roberts and Ream published a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. The meta-analytical study evaluated the effects of humor on adults undergoing cancer treatment. The researchers found that humor “enhances feelings of closeness or togetherness when shared in the context of trust between the patient and nurse and may be used as a coping mechanism in a stressful situation.”

In stressful situations, such as the initial diagnosis of an illness, the treatment process, coping with side effects, receiving a poor prognosis and facing end-of-life issues, patients often feel isolated and burdensome to their loved ones. According to Tanay, Roberts and Ream, the formation of trust in the nurse-patient relationship can mitigate the stress of such situations and improve quality of life. Comedy can be a way to establish trust while helping patients make sense of what is happening to them.

Tanay, Roberts and Ream go on to say that recognizing and making light of incongruities, absurdities or characters serves as a coping mechanism and elicits a positive emotional response that nurses and patients can share. Such shared experiences can create a sense of togetherness in the nurse-patient relationship. This helps patients feel less alone and more capable of handling their illnesses or injuries.

In an article published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand in 2012, Natasha Old calls humor “an underrated medicine, which nurses can use to help ease a patient’s physical and mental stress, and to improve relationships between health professionals.” While clinical settings can be very austere, the use of humor in nursing can notably improve the nurse-patient relationship and help patients heal.

Using Humor to Enhance the Nurse-Patient Relationship

Using humor in a medical setting takes a bit of tact and creativity. It also requires the courage to open up and connect with patients who are going through difficult experiences. However, as a nurse, you have a unique opportunity to form a strong nurse-patient relationship and improve the lives of the people under your care. Humor builds trust, and “when 2 people (even strangers) laugh together, they are far more likely to like one another.”

The use of humor in nursing can broaden patients’ worlds by shifting their attention from pills, MRI noises and bed pans. Humor can be about anything from the weather to the latest news story. The point is to help the patient relax so you can begin to open channels of communication and build trust.

Knowing When the Time Is Right

There are certain times when it is inappropriate to use humor, but it is likely that you will recognize those situations intuitively. For example, the first time a patient hears a diagnosis is likely not a good time to make a joke. However, if a patient has had a few days to process the news, it may be time to reach out with humor.

One of the most appropriate times to use humor is during the education process. Nurses spend a great deal of time educating patients on self-care, medications, side effects, nutrition, exercise and more. If you are looking for a way to teach a patient about portion sizes, for instance, now may be the perfect time to make a few jokes about giant candy bars and extra-large slices of pizza. Similarly, you may need to discuss some uncomfortable side effects. That may be a good time to make a joke about the commonality of bathroom behaviors or how awkward it can be to take medications while dining out at a restaurant.

While it can sometimes feel awkward to make light of serious situations, remember that as a nurse, your job is to help improve a patient’s health and quality of life. If shared experiences, lines of communication, and humor can help you improve quality of care, open yourself up to some new nursing techniques and expand your skill set.

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