The Role of Humor in Nursing (Podcast)

Adding humor to your communication toolbox can help put patients at ease and create connections with colleagues

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Humor is important in the nursing profession as a stress reliever, an ice breaker with patients and a way to bond with fellow caregivers. Yet some nurses are unsure when and how to use humor in the healthcare setting.

“I think a lot of times folks think, ‘Oh, I’m not good at jokes. I don’t have a sense of humor.’ You’ve never laughed in your life? You’ve never found anything funny?” says Cait Hogan, BSN, RN, a former standup comedian who now serves as a clinical nurse in the medical ICU at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus. “Everyone has a sense of humor – especially nurses. I don’t think you could be a nurse without having some sort of sense of humor.”

In a recent episode of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse Essentials podcast, Hogan shares her thoughts on bringing humor to the bedside, including:

  • Why humor is an important communication tool
  • Reading the room to gauge how patients and families will respond
  • Reflecting on whether humor is an unhealthy defense mechanism or helpful stress reliever
  • Funny lines she uses with patients and families

Click the podcast player above to listen to the episode now, or read on for a short edited excerpt. Check out more Nurse Essentials episodes at or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Podcast excerpt

Podcast host Carol Pehotsky, DNP, RN, NEA-BC: Humor can really take that tension down [in a patient’s room] for that family that’s taking all of it in.

Hogan: And it’s not humor about their loved one. It’s more about me. Like, “Do you know what blew my mind? Let me give you a nursing insider secret.” Or even just acknowledging, “Oh, yeah, I read the chart. You guys have been here in the hospital for a while. You guys could have a nursing degree.” And not to be condescending about it.

So, I think kind of checking in with yourself. I’ve written about when does self-deprecating humor become actually self-marginalizing.

Pehotsky: Oh, this is my jam. I need to pay attention. All right, let me get my pen out. Go for it.

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Hogan: When we make jokes about ourselves or about other folks, there’s a phrase ‘punching down’ – you know, are you punching down? Or are you punching up? Essentially for humor to happen you have to obstruct something. A pun would obstruct the grammar. The gag has to be an obstruction, so when we walk into rooms what do we need to obstruct? And I think what we need to obstruct is the sadness. Sadness is absolutely appropriate, and people who are loved deserve their loss to be sad, deserve their pain to create sadness. But you can’t have a life without joy. And so, if they’re still here, they’re still living, we’re still fighting – even if they’re intubated, sedated, paralyzed, proned. We still have life.

Pehotsky: It’s a temporary obstruction from the sadness. That’s something we can bring.

Hogan: Yes. And so that’s where you have to find joy. And I think that in humor, we can really bring it.