Anyone who knows me knows that I like to have fun, and I try to bring and project a sense of humor at work. I find this helps me get through the day and helps those around me as well.
If you happened to listen to our most recent virtual grand rounds, you might have heard some of the tricks I institute when onboarding a new learner. Many of the actions that I take are designed to create a comfortable learning atmosphere, and I will often try to use some humor to help create a relaxed environment.
But… I do this carefully and try to be very mindful with my words and my actions, and the reason is that I don’t know much background about the new student, and I will want to be very careful not to say anything that might not be humorous. The reason is that I know in the back of my mind, some learners rotating in our larger health system have mentioned that they took offense at some jokes or comments made by others.
A review of the literature revealed a valuable article published in Pediatrics last year. The authors reported on several styles of humor, and the framework that I favor is a humor style that is designed to be fun, that captures attention, and encourages engagement. The goal is to reduce anxiety and tension and to create a positive and supportive learning environment.
Unfortunately, there is another type of humor that can be somewhat negative and aggressive. This can involve mocking or ridicule and is often derogatory and cynical. This hostile type of humor has been part of a “hidden curriculum” and it can serve to marginalize and isolate individuals, and trainees.
It seems obvious that we should strive for a positive and supportive humor style and avoid the latter. We should be aware that humor is fundamentally something that is subjective, and not all of us have the right personality to become a comedian. But some of us might strive to include a little humor when we can.
Finally, we should recognize that not everyone is comfortable using humor. There are LOTS of different ways to promote a positive learning environment. Humor is a tool in our clinician-educator toolbox, and it will need to be handled carefully and judiciously.
“A pediatrician, a resident and a medical student walk into a clinic: The role of humor in clinical teaching”, by Dudas, et al, Pediatrics, vol 148, Number 5, Nov 2021