Humor: The Most Essential Quality

by Ruby Vee 7,456 Views | 19 Comments

You can be a competent nurse without a sense of humor, but you probably won't have longevity in nursing, nor will you have as much fun as those with a well-developed funny bone. Nurses laugh at some mighty inappropriate things, but sometimes you either have to laugh or you'll cry. Laughing is healthier in the long run, and it's much more fun!

  1. 34

    Humor:  The Most Essential Quality

    Someone asked me the other day what I thought was the most essential quality to being a good nurse. They then waited with bated breath, hoping for me to say something profound like "You have to have a calling" or "A sincere desire to better the human condition." I know they were hoping for me to say something like that, because they made no bones about their disappointment with my response.

    I have never been one of those who subscribe to the idea that a calling is necessary to being a good nurse, and I've posted to that effect. There are many qualities that are essential to being a good and competent nurse, and many more that are nice to have but not totally necessary. (An outgoing personality, for one. That's one I've always WISHED I had, but didn't get when the good and bad traits were being passed out. A naturally willowy figure. Didn't get that one either.) A sense of humor, though, IS a necessity. You can be competent without a sense of humor, but you may not be happy or have longevity as a nurse, and you surely won't have as much fun!

    When I look back over my long career (temporarily interrupted, but not for much longer!) I realize that the one quality I have which kept me going when many others opted out was a well-developed sense of humor. And maybe not so coincidentally, it's the one thing that has kept me sane and happy in LIFE when many others with my same issues have opted to descend into victimhood and give up. Sadly, a sense of humor isn't a quality that EVERYONE has. My sister, for example, totally lacks a sense of humor. It hasn't stopped her from climbing to the top of the management pyramid, but it has handicapped her in dealing with life. If you don't have one, it's worth trying to develop it!

    Often times in nursing, we encounter situations in which there are only two possible responses: laugh or cry. I've chosen to laugh because it's healthier in the long run, and it's so much more fun. When my patient climbed over the side rails, pulling out his central line and then slipping in the blood, falling and lying on the floor screaming for his "Mama" (at age 92) until I got there, my first impulse was to cry. But once I got things under control, the laughter took hold. The patient who went down the stairs backwards in his wheelchair thanks to some clever Harvard Medical Student who opened the emergency doors for him . . . it was a tragedy that he broke his back. And I have shed more than one tear over that . . . but when all was said and done and enough time had passed, it became a really funny story. The worst job interview of my life (and the catalyst that ended my then-marriage) became another funny story, and I can laugh about it now without even being tempted to cry. If I hadn't jettisoned that loser, I wouldn't be married to the wonderful man I'm with now.

    I think some threads on all nurses encourage us to heal by making it possible for us to laugh at some of the worst experiences of our careers, and maybe of our lives. Once you can see the humor in your own breast cancer, your mother's Alzheimer's, your patient's calamity, these events no longer have as much power to cause us pain. That's why I told the student who had shared the funny story at her own expense on one of our humor threads that she HAD learned her lesson even if she did make the same mistake again. Screw up, see the humor in it, and then come here and post about it so we can all laugh. That is the lesson.
    Last edit by Joe V on Feb 26
    1feistymama, matthewsj981, sharpeimom, and 31 others like this.
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  3. About Ruby Vee

    Ruby Vee joined Jun '02 - from 'the Midwest'. Ruby Vee has '38' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. Posts: 8,427 Likes: 30,008; Learn more about Ruby Vee by visiting their allnursesPage


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    19 Comments so far...

  4. 7
    So true, humor both light and grim helps keep the sanity and lets us cope.
  5. 5
    Quote from Ruas61
    So true, humor both light and grim helps keep the sanity and lets us cope.
    Agree...life would be DULL if we couldn't laugh at ourselves and sometimes the damnest of situations, good, bad and indifferent.
    mrsmamabear2002, T.H.R.N., nrsang97, and 2 others like this.
  6. 2
    Nurses often experience other people’s tragedies up close and personal. In order to protect our own mental health and happiness we need some strategy or coping mechanism to deal with all the physical and emotional anguish we frequently witness. We need it first and foremost for ourselves but we also need it for our patients. A nurse who internalizes the patients suffering and sorrow will not be of much use to anyone.

    I agree that a sense of humor is always helpful. I consider being able to laugh at oneself a rather endearing and healthy trait. One shouldn’t take oneself too seriously Laughing at (or preferably with) other people, well that depends on the context and the underlying motivator. Is it funny to the person being laughed at then by all means laugh away.
    If it isn’t, I’d proceed with caution.

    I have often laughed at my own minor (and one or two major ) goof-ups. I have laughed with my co-workers when they’ve had one of those days.. I have laughed at some of my patients’ shenanigans. I have often laughed in tandem with a patient. But I have never laughed at a patient (or anyone else) getting seriously injured or suffering a life-threatening disease/event. I don’t think that will happen even If I live to be a hundred (baring the loss of certain faculties, then all bets are off ).

    Personally I don’t have need to try to turn everything bad I see into something humorous.
    I acknowledge that they are tragedies. Tragedies are a part of the human life experience. I’ve like the rest of you, chosen a profession where tragedy is probably more commonplace than on other jobs. I cope by being surrounded with a great group of coworkers. I find balance in my life by spending my free time with people I love and cherish. I go to the gym to blow off steam if the workday has been rough. I go for long walks and simply appreciate the soothing and invigorating effect of breeze, wind or gale (whichever the weather gods delivered that particular day) against my face and the scent of flowers or rain and the beauty of nature. This works for me.

    Once you can see the humor in your own breast cancer, your mother’s Alzheimer’s, your patient’s calamity, these events no longer have as much power to cause us pain.
    If this is a coping method that works for you then all is good. Just don’t be surprised that some people might not see the humor in their cancer or the humor in losing a parent to dementia. I think it would be a mistake to assume that the reason for this is that they lack a sense of humor.

    We have a stressful job and we all have to figure out a coping mechanism that works for us. I don’t think that one method fits all. I agree though that a good laugh is a good way to decompress.
    Last edit by macawake on Feb 20
    lehcareaj and mrsmamabear2002 like this.
  7. 3
    Quote from macawake
    Nurses often experience other people’s tragedies up close and personal. In order to protect our own mental health and happiness we need some strategy or coping mechanism to deal with all the physical and emotional anguish we frequently witness. We need it first and foremost for ourselves but we also need it for our patients. A nurse who internalizes the patients suffering and sorrow will not be of much use to anyone.

    I agree that a sense of humor is always helpful. I consider being able to laugh at oneself a rather endearing and healthy trait. One shouldn’t take oneself too seriously Laughing at (or preferably with) other people, well that depends on the context and the underlying motivator. Is it funny to the person being laughed at then by all means laugh away.
    If it isn’t, I’d proceed with caution.

    I have often laughed at my own minor (and one or two major ) goof-ups. I have laughed with my co-workers when they’ve had one of those days.. I have laughed at some of my patients’ shenanigans. I have often laughed in tandem with a patient. But I have never laughed at a patient (or anyone else) getting seriously injured or suffering a life-threatening disease/event. I don’t think that will happen even If I live to be a hundred (baring the loss of certain faculties, then all bets are off ).

    Personally I don’t have need to try to turn everything bad I see into something humorous.
    I acknowledge that they are tragedies. Tragedies are a part of the human life experience. I’ve like the rest of you, chosen a profession where tragedy is probably more commonplace than on other jobs. I cope by being surrounded with a great group of coworkers. I find balance in my life by spending my free time with people I love and cherish. I go to the gym to blow off steam if the workday has been rough. I go for long walks and simply appreciate the soothing and invigorating effect of breeze, wind or gale (whichever the weather gods delivered that particular day) against my face and the scent of flowers or rain and the beauty of nature. This works for me.



    If this is a coping method that works for you then all is good. Just don’t be surprised that some people might not see the humor in their cancer or the humor in losing a parent to dementia. I think it would be a mistake to assume that the reason for this is that they lack a sense of humor.

    We have a stressful job and we all have to figure out a coping mechanism that works for us. I don’t think that one method fits all. I agree though that a good laugh is a good way to decompress.
    I understand that not everyone copes in the same fashion. I used to walk my dogs for miles and miles to cope with stress -- until I wasn't able to. We can always laugh, though. I didn't mean to say that I laugh at someone else's serious injury or illness, although sometimes long after the event, something about it will strike my funny bone. Apparently I'm not the only one, because when I tell the story about Juan and the geri chair, my colleagues laugh until they cry. I'll leave it to you to judge if there's any humor in the situation.

    http://allnurses.com/general-nursing...ir-345542.html
    macawake, T.H.R.N., and eagle78 like this.
  8. 1
    Quote from macawake
    Nurses often experience other people’s tragedies up close and personal. In order to protect our own mental health and happiness we need some strategy or coping mechanism to deal with all the physical and emotional anguish we frequently witness. We need it first and foremost for ourselves but we also need it for our patients. A nurse who internalizes the patients suffering and sorrow will not be of much use to anyone. I agree that a sense of humor is always helpful. I consider being able to laugh at oneself a rather endearing and healthy trait. One shouldn’t take oneself too seriously Laughing at (or preferably with) other people, well that depends on the context and the underlying motivator. Is it funny to the person being laughed at then by all means laugh away. If it isn’t, I’d proceed with caution. I have often laughed at my own minor (and one or two major ) goof-ups. I have laughed with my co-workers when they’ve had one of those days.. I have laughed at some of my patients’ shenanigans. I have often laughed in tandem with a patient. But I have never laughed at a patient (or anyone else) getting seriously injured or suffering a life-threatening disease/event. I don’t think that will happen even If I live to be a hundred (baring the loss of certain faculties, then all bets are off ). Personally I don’t have need to try to turn everything bad I see into something humorous. I acknowledge that they are tragedies. Tragedies are a part of the human life experience. I’ve like the rest of you, chosen a profession where tragedy is probably more commonplace than on other jobs. I cope by being surrounded with a great group of coworkers. I find balance in my life by spending my free time with people I love and cherish. I go to the gym to blow off steam if the workday has been rough. I go for long walks and simply appreciate the soothing and invigorating effect of breeze, wind or gale (whichever the weather gods delivered that particular day) against my face and the scent of flowers or rain and the beauty of nature. This works for me. If this is a coping method that works for you then all is good. Just don’t be surprised that some people might not see the humor in their cancer or the humor in losing a parent to dementia. I think it would be a mistake to assume that the reason for this is that they lack a sense of humor. We have a stressful job and we all have to figure out a coping mechanism that works for us. I don’t think that one method fits all. I agree though that a good laugh is a good way to decompress.
    I totally agree. Laughter is a coping mechanism for some, but not for others. And I think it largely depends on your specialty. Some see more tragedy than others. And sometimes, laughter isn't always appropriate.
    macawake likes this.
  9. 8
    Sometimes laughter is not appropriate, but oh when it is I just love to roll in it...
  10. 8
    Oh yes, if I didn't let myself laugh at some of the "sundowning situations" in my unit, I might have blacked out and strangled some of them by now...
  11. 4
    I guess we will all agree to this. Humor adds spice to our work. It brightens and lightens our work. It may not be best but it should definitely be included in the best qualities of a nurse.
  12. 3
    How else would we be able to laugh at bowel related incidents over lunch?


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