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Medicine is serious business, but a little humor may be just what you need when the going gets tough.

Fam Pract Manag. 2002;9(6):70

I work in a Dilbert-esque office, complete with cubicles, computers and the occasional memo on how to send memos. I also deal with coding, Medicare and physician reimbursement issues every day. Some days, it's just hard to find the humor in it all. I can only imagine how difficult it must be in a busy family physician's office. Still, I have found ways to add a little levity to my day when needed. If you need a good dose of humor in your day, here are some suggestions.

Keep a humor file

Keep a hanging file in your desk drawer labeled “Humor.” Include in it whatever makes you laugh. Mine includes a book of Far Side cartoons and a collection of George Carlin observations, among other things. Whenever I need to smile, take a break or diffuse stress, I reach into the folder for a few laughs.

Dress accordingly

Professional dress doesn't have to be devoid of life and personality. It can still be fun. For example, if you have to wear a tie, consider trading in your paisley stripes for Charlie Brown or the Cat in the Hat. If you're really daring, throw on some rainbow-colored suspenders.

Holiday seasons are the perfect time to break away from traditional attire and inject some humor. For example, hold an office costume contest on Halloween and let your patients pick the winner. Spray paint a pair of old shoes bright green to wear on St. Patrick's Day, or dress in bright red on Valentine's Day. Whatever you do, have fun. Your pediatric patients will love it – even if no one else does.

Mix it up

One of the best ways to add humor to your life and the lives of those around you is to stop responding on “auto pilot” and do something unexpected. For example, the next time someone casually asks how you are doing, don't give them the pat reply “I'm fine.” Try an atypical response, such as “It depends on who you ask, but I think I'm fantastic!” The reaction you get will probably bring a big grin to your face as well as to the person to whom you're talking. Another way to break out of the routine in a fun way is to replace your plain yellow Post-It notes with ones that include a humorous saying or drawing. Or replace your drug-company pen with a novelty pen; for example, how about one that's a full-scale replica of the bones of a human finger?

Find mirth online

Another way to bring a smile to your face and others is with a joke. Of course, it has to be appropriate, but some of the funniest jokes I've heard could be told in anyone's company. They say you can find anything on the Web and humor is no exception. The Good, Clean Funnies List has an archive of jokes “clean enough to share with your family and friends,” or if you'd like a good laugh before you start each workday, subscribe to their joke-a-day e-mail list. Rec.Humor.Funny maintains an archive of over 6,000 jokes – some clean, some colorful.

If you don't consider yourself to be a good joke teller, then consider routing a comic strip or a funny news article through the office. It will be a pleasant surprise and change of pace from all the other paperwork everyone handles each day.

Share the joy

Finding humor in the workplace doesn't have to be a solo journey. Ask your office staff or your patients (when appropriate) if they've heard any good jokes lately. They may be surprised by your question at first, but before you know it, they'll be bringing jokes to every visit. You may even find that sharing a laugh can put a nervous patient at ease and help strengthen your relationship.

Medicine is a serious business, and long hours, declining reimbursement and managed care hassles don't give you much to laugh about these days. However, that doesn't mean some levity isn't appropriate once in a while. A little laughter and a sense of humor can help you find a bright spot even on the most difficult of days.

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Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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