Humor can help release nervous tension, express feelings of superiority and reveal struggles to assimilate something unexpected. Studying when and why things are funny is part of  value theory called aesthetics. Similar to ethics, aesthetics helps individuals interrogate what they value and what is worth the risk to get a benefit from humor. However, while some think there is a lot to joke about, some think there is nothing funny about illness and injury. This makes it imperative that physicians and other health professionals understand humor’s role in health care.

Ethics in Health Care

Explore the AMA Journal of Ethics for articles, podcasts and polls that focus on ethical issues that affect physicans, physicians-in-training and their patients.

The July issue of AMA Journal of Ethics® (@JournalofEthics) features numerous perspectives on humor in health care and gives you an opportunity to earn CME credit.

Articles include:

  1. How to Use Humor in Clinical Settings.” 

    1. Humor and laughter researchers at the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (yep, that’s a thing) not only study why humor helps, but also how it can be skillfully applied.
  2. Could Humor in Health Care Become Malpractice?

    1. Traditional causes of action involving the use of humor are breach of contract, defamation, trademark infringement, harassment or hostile work environment, and intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
  3. Responding to Callous Humor in Health Care.” 

    1. Because it affects collegiality, training, and patient care, callous humor should not be tolerated, especially when directed at patients.
  4. Virtuous Humor in Health Care.” 

    1. A recent model categorizes comic styles that can help us examine whether and when humor is a virtue in health care professionalism.

In the journal’s July podcast, expert Kelly Leonard, executive director of insights and applied improvisation at The Second City Works in Chicago, discusses  insights from improvisation health care professionals can use to build patient-physician relationships and improve outcomes. Leonard also hosts the Second City Works and WGN podcast, “Getting to Yes, And.”

Listen to or watch previous episodes of the podcast, “Ethics Talk,” or subscribe in iTunes or other services. 

The AMA Journal of Ethics CME module, “Ethics Talk: Improvising Health Care,” is designated by the AMA for a maximum of 0.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™

The offerings are part of the AMA Ed Hub™, an online platform that brings together high-quality CME, maintenance of certification, and educational content—in one place—with relevant learning activities, automated credit tracking and reporting for some states and specialty boards. 

Learn more about AMA CME accreditation.  

Related Coverage

Code of Medical Ethics overview

The journal’s editorial focus is on commentaries and articles that offer practical advice and insights for medical students and physicians. Submit a manuscript for publication. 

The 2020 John Conley Ethics Essay Contest and the Conley Art of Medicine Contest are now open for submission. Read the essay prompt and see visual media requirements on the AMA Journal of Ethics website. 

Apply to become a theme issue editor to help the journal develop theme issues on interested and neglected topics. 

Visit the journal’s COVID-19 Ethics Resource Center for articles, podcasts, and videos relevant to the ethical challenges of the current pandemic.  

Related Coverage

Code of Medical Ethics: Patient-physician relationships

Upcoming issues of the AMA Journal of Ethics will focus on opioids and public health as well as behavioral architecture in health care. Sign up to receive email alerts when new issues are published.

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