Dr. Kimatha Grice ’13 was providing occupational therapy at a camp for children with burns when a carload of clowns arrived, changing the campers’ mood and her career. As a child, Grice dressed up as a clown every Halloween. At the burn camp, she connected that love of clowns with her career in healthcare. She joined a “clown alley” (what clowns call their organizations) and started visiting patients at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
After joining the faculty of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, she formed a local clown alley and started a hospital visitation program—TLC: Tender Loving Clowns. Next, she brought her love of humor to students with an interprofessional elective course, Laughter is the Best Medicine: Humor in Healthcare.
Here the Post Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy graduate offers advice that everyone can use to improve patient outcomes.
Use Humor with Patients
“In a nutshell, humor helps with communication and establishes rapport. It works in all healthcare professions to break the ice and put people at ease. Studies across cultures have shown that humor is a bonding mechanism. If patients feel a bond with us, they will be more relaxed and see us as more than a therapist there to inflict pain.
“Look patients in the eye and talk to them, and when you see an opportunity, inject something lighthearted or humorous. If they respond, that’s the green light. If they don’t smile or laugh, back off and stay on task. Many times, patients start it. If you ask them a question and they give you a silly answer, then you know this is someone who will appreciate you being more lighthearted.”
Lighten Up the Workplace
“The same benefit you have with patients you get with co-workers—better communication. During a serious meeting where there’s disagreement, for example, if you interject humor and get everyone to step back and laugh, then the situation won’t be so tense and the group can be more productive.
“Humor can also be an everyday thing. When I ran a hand clinic, Friday was joke day. Everyone shared a cartoon or joke, and we gave a prize for the one with the most votes.”
Recharge Your Humor Battery
“Burnout is high in health professions, so it’s important to recharge your humor battery. I collect cartoons and funny stories in a humor notebook. I encourage students to create their own because it gives them something tangible they can get a laugh from at any time. Many start a notebook in the course and keep it up after they graduate with funny stories from work and silly photos of their kids.
“There are physiological studies that show laughter helps breathing, lowers blood pressure, and releases endorphins. Even if you force yourself to laugh, you get the same benefit.
“Our goal should be to get everyone to laugh more.”
Here’s one of Dr. Kimatha Grice’s favorites for all ages:
Why don’t ducks like to fly upside down?
Because they don’t want to quack up!