An E.R. nurse was examining an elderly woman who happened to be hard of hearing. She put the stethoscope to her chest and said, “Big breaths.” The woman replied, “Yes, and they used to be bigger.”


Every area of health care has procedures and equipment that naturally invite comedy. Several examples will provide ideas for creating your own lines for equipment you use. Remember, patients love funny doctors, they tell their friends and family to use them, and they will be reluctant to sue warm, compassionate, humorous health-care providers–even if things go wrong.




The Saliva Ejector


“I’m sure you’ve seen the saliva ejector. This helps to keep your mouth dry. If it’s uncomfortable here, you can put it where you’d like it. Of course, my last patient put it in my mouth.”


 “There are some very hostile people out there.

I sure hope you aren’t one of them.”

Unless your patient is scared out of their wits, they always laugh, and it sets the stage for the rest of the treatment.



The ear nose and throat doctor has a fiber optic scope (figure 2) he inserts into the nose and down the throat. Most often this is done without sedation, and while it doesn’t usually hurt, it’s rather unpleasant. After preparing the patient with an explanation of what to expect and just before insertion:


“After I have a look around in here, I’ll let you know if I see anything interesting. The other day I found a pistachio nut, two marbles and a paper clip.”


 “While none of that’s true, it makes for an interesting story.”

The Rubber Dam

In dentistry we have a device called a rubber dam (Figure 3). It’s a latex rubber cover that goes over the tooth being treated, and it looks like the patient is wearing a mask. While wearing the rubber dam, the patient can’t talk back, but they can, most certainly, laugh.

Before placing the rubber dam, explain that you have to put a cover over their tooth to keep germs out of their tooth and dust from getting into their mouth. Once the rubber dam is in place:


“If you’re good today, I’ll let you wear this home.”

They almost always laugh. In which case, you can continue:


“This is your color. It looks great on you. Maybe you should consider some green rubber clothing for your fall wardrobe.”

The Patient Gown

Fashion humor works well with the lovely gowns (figure 4) patients get to wear in the hospital or while being examined in your office.

When the gynecologist walks into the room with the patient draped in a flimsy covering, that’s a great time to comment:


“Mary, that sheet look so good on you.

If you want to wear it home, just let me know.”

A similar line works great for the doctor making rounds in the hospital. As you uncover the patient to perform your exam you say:


“If you’re interested, I can get you this same gown with the fur collar.”



“I know the people in wardrobe, and if you are interested I can get them to let you wear this gown home.”

These comments will make your patients smile and more likely laugh, but more importantly, you will ease their anxiety.


Sam is waiting for the digital rectal exam:


“Sam, that gown looks great on you. It reminds me of the other night when there was a full moon.”



“Sam, that gown looks great on you, but if you’re planning on going out formal this evening, you might want to try something in a darker shade.”


 “Sam, that gown looks great on you, but before you leave, you might want to consider something to cover your butt.”

The Stethoscope

The stethoscope (figure 5) always offers a great way to get a laugh:


“I know this may be a bit cold, but it’s so much better than last month, when I used popsicles to check hearts.”


Holidays offer special opportunities to joke with your patients. If you use a green rubber dam, the week of Saint Patrick’s Day allows you to joke:


“What luck! Being that Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, I’m going to let you wear this home.”


 “You can tell your friends it’s a shamrock put on your tooth

by a lucky leprechaun.”

For the entire week after the holiday vary the line:


“It’s a shame you missed our Saint Patrick’s Day special. I let all my patients wear this thing home so they could tell their friends…”

Halloween is another chance for joking with the rubber dam


“If you’re good I’ll let you wear this home for trick-or-treat.”

Or the variation:


“It’s a shame you missed our Halloween special. I let all my patients wear this home for trick-or-treat.”

The clinic gown works well for the Halloween humor:


“George, if you’d like, you can wear this gown for Halloween next week. It makes a great ghost costume if you just cover your butt.”



Electro-surgery, laser treatments, melting filling material, or any procedure that produces smoke the patient can see or smell offers a great opportunity to alleviate the patient’s fear by using humor:


“I’m using the laser to remove your wart, and I don’t want you to worry

if you see smoke.”


 “If you hear sirens, that’s something you should worry about.”

Variation after the pause:


“If you see men running into the room wearing funny hats and carrying a big hose, then you have something to worry about.”

Another variation after the pause:


“If you see me and Mary running out of the room yelling things like ‘call 911,’ that’s something you should worry about.”

Another variation after the pause:


“If you notice a warm feeling in your socks and see smoke coming out of your shoes, you should let me know.”


Any practice that has a chair or table that tilts backwards lends to humor:


“This ride is the best part of the treatment, so I do hope you are

enjoying yourself.”


The lead shield offers a cute line if the patient is supine when you place it:


“If I pull this shield over your head, it means something didn’t go as planned. And you really know things didn’t go right if you notice the coroner pull up.”


 “But please, don’t worry. That almost never happens.”

Look at your assistant and continue:

“What do you think, Jennifer, once or twice a day?”


As bedrocks of bedside manner, communication, compassion and comedy are often combined to produce a winning formula. Warnings communicated in a comic manner show you have compassion for the patient’s wellbeing.

Humor Used To Forewarn Untoward Incidences


It’s important to forewarn the patient of possible occurrences that may appear as accidents in order to prevent them from assuming the worst. Every time you place a device that has the potential to come off unexpectedly, or when a snap, crackle, or pop will or could be heard, use a line to forewarn.

In dentistry, the rubber dam can jump off the tooth and frighten the patient. Without explanation or warning it could make the patient think something broke.


“Sometimes this can pop off of your tooth. Don’t let it scare you if that happens.”


 “Of course, if it hits me in the head, you’ll hear me scream, and I’ll fall to the floor; then you can be scared.”

By adding humor to a serious discussion, it helps to allay patient fears.

Another example:


“When I use the laser to remove your mole, it makes a popping sound. Don’t let the noise frighten you.”


 “Of course, if you hear a loud popping sound and I fall to the floor, it’s probably a sniper unhappy about the last mole I removed.”

Before the necessity of complicated informed consents that list every possible risk of treatment, many oral surgeons got involved in situations requiring them to pay for costly dental care after a tooth adjacent to the one they pulled broke. Patients would often blame the surgeon for the accident even knowing that the adjacent teeth were ready to crumble. Since patients may sign informed consents without reading or understanding them, it is best to forewarn of potential risks in a humorous fashion to prevent legal entanglement.


“Whenever we pull a tooth, there is the possibility that the tooth next to the one we pull can break and need involved treatment to save it, or sometimes it also needs to be pulled. It’s not too likely to happen, but unfortunately that is a risk of pulling any tooth.”


 “Of course now that I have this new plastic explosive I use to remove teeth, it almost never happens.”

If the patient doesn’t laugh, add:

“I’m just kidding.”

When delving in to the world of comedy, go slowly. Try one or two lines that are easy to remember and practice them until it becomes second nature. Once you get the hang of jesting and have the confidence that you really can be funny, go for the longer lines. Develop ways to keep track of what lines you use so that you avoid looking like you use the same lines over and over. While you can’t remember every line you used with every patient, you can have first visit lines, second visit lines, lines to greet first time patients, and so forth. This will keep you from looking scripted. While bedside manner is a compilation of many traits, the power of humor is very close to the top.

• Andrew Vo (2019/10/01 22:05)
I like the idea of smoothing over things that may startle the patient such as the rubber dam clamp popping off. I also like tapering into comedy and being purposeful in delivery rather than saying whatever pops in your head, which may increase the patient\'s anxiety.
• Jane Shin (2019/10/01 20:53)
Patient fears often stem from the unknown-- not knowing if/when the patient will feel pain, what the procedure will be like, and feeling vulnerable and not in control because of the unknown. Informing the patient of what is to come, and adding humor to this, will comfort the patient. These are good examples of how to explain the saliva ejector and the rubber dam, especially about warning the patient that the clamp can pop off.
• Shane Curtis (2019/09/30 21:35)
As endodontists, we do the same procedures and provide the same instructions day in and day out. It is important that we streamline our \\\"scripts\\\" to improve efficiency, improve patient understanding, and enhance the overall patient experience. Adding clever, well placed humor to the scripted lines is a great way to improve the patient experience. I particularly like making jokes about the rubber dam. Most patients have not seen the rubber dam before and I think the levity helps them better accept the awkwardness of rubber dam placement.
• Jen Schlesinger (2019/09/29 19:59)
The rubber dam clamp joke is my favorite and I\'m going to start with that one as I try to introduce jokes into my interactions with patients. Having 1st visit and 2nd visit jokes makes a lot of sense so that you don\'t repeat yourself. And all of the goes back to having systems in place, even with our jokes, to help our practices run smoothly. There are so many great examples listed.

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