Hospital Culture: How Patch Adams Brought Humor into Medicine

NursingJanuary 07, 2014

Laughter has been proven to have a positive impact on the immune system. It can reduce pain and stress and even extend life. When a patient is faced with a disease or illness, laughter also provides psychological relief in a difficult situation. Despite this, hospital culture is traditionally serious, due to the hectic work environment and the issues of life and death.

In the 1970s, medical student Patch Adams decided to change this by infusing humor into the medical profession. Patch Adams' contributions during medical school were used as the basis of a 1998 movie of the same name, but in reality, his impact on health care after he graduated is much more significant. Adams has called for health care to focus on personalized treatments, alternative medicine and free care. But he may be best known for incorporating laughter, fun and play into the hospital culture. These are the main ways Adams has brought humor into the medical profession:

  1. After graduation, Adams founded the Gesundheit! Institute, a community hospital. The hospital emphasized social service and a new vision of health care, but it also focused on the importance of humor and play in the healing process. The hospital closed after 12 years due to a lack of funding, but the construction of a new building started in 2011.
  2. After the hospital closed, Adams started organizing clown trips to the Soviet Union, and shortly thereafter, tours to other countries. During these trips, volunteer clowns visited hospitals and other facilities, such as nursing homes, in an effort to bring joy to those who needed it the most.
  3. Adams is often invited to conduct presentations at medical schools around the world, where he inspires students to incorporate humor into health care.
  4. In the book House Calls, Adams suggests that readers visit friends in hospitals and other places, with the goal of improving both the environment and the health of the person in need. The book encourages people to have fun and use humor during these missions, and has inspired many to do just this. Some of the resulting visits are described on Adams' website, which continues to serve as an inspiration.
  5. Adams also wrote the book Gesundheit! about his philosophy on how health care should be practiced. One of the things he illustrates in the book is the role of joy, happiness and humor in medical care.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons