The Role of Humor in Perioperative Spaces

An acclaimed neuro-humorist and former nurse explains why clinicians should bring humor to their everyday work

By Medline Newsroom Staff | November 15, 2019

Do laughter and humor have a place in the perioperative setting? Acclaimed humorist Karyn Buxman, a renowned speaker, former perioperative nurse and the author of What’s So Funny About Operating Room Nursing, believes so. Earlier this year, Medline invited Buxman to share some of these unique concepts with hundreds of clinicians at an annual wellness event.

Medline Newsroom: You’re a neuro-humorist. Can you explain what that is and how you got to become one?

Buxman: I know what you’re thinking…another neuro-humorist (laughs). I’ve been researching humor for thirty years now. Once I started realizing the benefits of humor, it changed my life, and became something I dedicated my life to studying. Over the last decade, I’ve focused much more narrowly on humor and the brain. That intersection, between humor and the brain, is where I live now, hence the neuro-humorist.

MN: You also used to be an OR nurse. How does that career connect with your current one?

Buxman: My nursing career was pretty wild and crazy. I started off in MedSurg, ER, ICU, OR, then I hoped over to teaching, Geri, pediatrics, OB, then I did some home health and chased head lice on two thousands students for a while, and then I went back to teaching, did some air ambulance work on the side, then I worked in hospice.

Karyn Buxman speaking
Neuro-humorist and former nurse Karen Buxman speaks to clinical experts during a wellness event hosted by Medline.

Some people look at me and say, “I get it, you couldn’t hold a job.” But the real reason I gathered all this experience was my love of learning. So when I had the opportunity to go back to grad school, I jumped at it. Then, in school, I was able to convince my advisor to let me study the intersections of humor, health and communication.

MN: What did you think you were going to learn, and what did you actually take away from your studies?

Buxman: What was really enlightening was learning how we are on the leading edge of a field called psychoneuroimmunology. Humor has physiological effects. It has psychological effects. It also has social effects. My goal is to help people engage with humor not by chance, but by choice.

MN: What do you tell people who say either they’re not funny, or they too busy for humor in the workplace?

Buxman: It’s interesting because, when people say to me, “I’m not funny,” my response is “Great!” People confuse humor with comedy. Entertainment is just one purpose of humor, the others being influence and well-being. In one recent study, over half the nurses surveyed said humor was not just an important part of their work, but that without it, their job would be impossible. A lot of time, people in our profession confuse professionalism with being solemn. But the research shows that we can do serious work, convey serious messages and be taken serious as professionals, all without being so solemn. Organizations are realizing the benefits of giving their employees permission, within the necessary guidelines, to approach their important work with joy and levity.

MN: What’s the most important thing you want clinicians to know and remember about humor in the OR?

Buxman: The message of humor can help with cancer, disease processes, or any type of “personal disaster” that individuals may be facing in a care setting. Personally, I want the nurse who is taking care of me, or my child, or my parent, or my spouse, I want them well-rested, I want them in a good frame of mind, so they are in a position to  provide me the best possible care.

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Medline Newsroom Staff

Medline Newsroom Staff

Medline's newsroom staff researches and reports on the latest news and trends in healthcare.

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