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Special Article |

Humor in the Physician-Patient Encounter

Jeffrey T. Berger, MD; Jack Coulehan, MD, MPH; Catherine Belling, PhD
Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(8):825-830. doi:10.1001/archinte.164.8.825.
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Medicine is serious business, but physicians have always tried to balance the heavier aspects of their work with humor and lightness. Hippocrates,1 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.

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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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