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Laughter is the best medicine. And medicine often makes for the best laughter.

Fam Pract Manag. 2003;10(6):80

Physicians have unparalleled access to some of the best – and funniest – stories humanity has to offer. But it can be easy to lose track of your funny bone in today’s stormy medical climate. Between HMOs, inadequate reimbursement, rising malpractice premiums and demanding patients who have less loyalty than a cat, who wouldn’t forget to laugh now and then?

Being able to laugh at yourself is essential to enjoying a long-lasting career. Being able to make your patients laugh is even tougher, but can make you invaluable to patients who are nervous or scared.

Our small facility is located in a tourist area in the rural Colorado mountains. Patients come to us cold, hurt and unsure of what to expect in such a remote environment. We see many orthopedic injuries to patients who will often travel home on crutches and need surgery followed by months of physical therapy. I work with a physician who rarely leaves the exam room without eliciting at least a giggle. Dr. Brooks delivers his diagnosis, prognosis and practical advice. He then adds, in a serious voice, “and no sex for six months.” Nervous laughter usually ensues. “But that doesn’t mean you,” he says, turning to the spouse. More laughter.

We try to maintain our humor in a variety of small ways. For example, every Friday is Hawaiian shirt day. Even consulting physicians, such as the usually stoic radiologists, wear tropical-themed shirts over their traditional professional attire. Few patients fail to smile when they see the medical staff tending to their care as if they were headed for a luau.

Adding an element of levity while maintaining a professional environment can be easy and inexpensive. Here are four ideas to consider:

1. Take pictures. Polaroid cameras and film are inexpensive and easy to use. Children love to have a photo of themselves with a new cast. Polaroid shots are great for keeping everyone in a cheerful mood as well. Some facilities keep a scrapbook of especially busy days or funny candid shots of staff. A shared history is the backbone of surviving the hectic or distressing days.

2. Bring food. Surprise everyone on occasion with doughnuts, cookies or a fruit plate. Something as simple as a jar filled with small chocolates can keep a medical staff productive and pleasant. Informally rotate the responsibility for bringing in a bag of goodies for the jar. Most people love to feel a part of something larger than themselves and will want to contribute to the group. Besides, one or two miniature Mr. Goodbars can save the day when a lunch break is out of the question.

3. Make it a contest. Ask everyone to bring in a photo from medical/nursing/high school or college. Give a prize to the person who can match the most names and faces. Use current events such as the Academy Awards or sporting events to see who can choose the most winners or the winning score. Or use events specific to your area. For example, every fall, the staff member or doctor who guesses the date of the first snowfall of the year wins a prize.

4. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Post your “happy letters” for everyone to read. In our break room, notices from human resources and the parking police get overlooked, but the kind letters we receive from patients are well read. A photo album with sticky pages serves as a great way for everyone to reflect on a job well done.

The not-so-serious side

Medicine is serious business. People trust you with their lives and well-being every day. However, the business of medicine doesn’t always have to be so somber. Treasure the many fun and humorous facets of your practice and let them be an enjoyable part of your career. Your patients and staff will love you for it. Besides, it may just be the one thing that HMO can never take away.

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Copyright © 2003 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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