Gallows humour helps doctors get through their day, it has emerged.

27 September 2011

A joke between doctors about a patient's problems could actually be beneficial, a new study has said.

The report led by Katie Watson, assistant professor in the medical humanities and bioethics programme at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, showed that gallows humour could be a bonding and coping mechanism for patients and doctors when faced with traumatic situations or particularly difficult cases.

Ms Watson said that there is already knowledge and literature about the health benefits of laughter, but there is little that addresses gallows humour in medicine usually occurring between health professionals.

This sort of humour treats serious, frightening, or painful subject matter in a light-hearted or satirical way, she explained.

In the report, Ms Watson writes: "Blanket dismissals of gallows humour as unprofessional misunderstand or undervalue the psychological, social, cognitive and linguistic ways that joking and laughing work."

The study first started when Ms Watson was told about a case where doctors were treating a pizza delivery boy who had been shot on his way to deliver food to the hospital.

By definition, gallows humour is the type of humour that still manages to be funny in the face of a hopeless situation.

Watson, K., "Gallows Humor in Medicine: Medical professionals regularly joke about their patients’ problems. Some of these jokes are clearly wrong, but are all jokes wrong?", The Hastings Center Report, September - October 2011.

Posted by Philip Briggs

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