A time to weep and a time to laugh: humour in the nurse-patient relationship in an adult cancer setting

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22 Citations (Scopus)


The literature highlights the value of humour in health-care settings. Humour impacts on the physiological, psychosocial and cognitive well-being of a person. The diagnosis of cancer is extremely stressful, and treatments are difficult. Patients and nurses may use humour as a coping mechanism to contend with the stresses caused directly or indirectly by cancer. This study investigated the use of humour during interactions between patients and nurses in an adult cancer ward.

This study used a modified ethnographic methodology that included fieldwork participant observation and informal interviews (n = 30 h) and formal interviews (n = 10). In total, 9 nurses and 12 patients participated in participant observation. From these, five nurses and five patients were interviewed. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Findings highlighted the importance of humour in the nurse–patient relationship. Patients consciously use humour during nurse–patient interactions in an attempt to help nurses cope with the stress they encounter in clinical practice. Patients perceive having a sense of humour as a positive nurse attribute. Nurses expressed concerns regarding compromising professionalism when using humour and felt the need for guidance from senior staff. Constant assessment and reflection help ensure humour is used appropriately in the adult health-care setting.

The benefits of humour are recognised by both adult cancer patients and nurses. A deeper understanding of patient and nurse perceptions of the use of humour can inform strategies for its therapeutic use in the clinical setting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1295-1301
Number of pages7
JournalSupportive care in cancer : official journal of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer
Issue number5
Early online date18 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


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