Humor in the Physician-Patient Encounter

Jeffrey T. Berger*, Jack Coulehan, Catherine Belling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Medicine is serious business, but physicians have always tried to balance the heavier aspects of their work with humor and lightness. Hippocrates, 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)825-830
Number of pages6
JournalArchives of Internal Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 26 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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