Have you ever been cared for by a nurse who made you laugh? Research from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington shows the nurse may have been utilising a crucial component of their professional toolkit.

Shelley van der Krogt recently completed her Master’s thesis on the use of humour in surgical nursing practice in New Zealand, graduating last week with a Master of Health Care.

Shelley, who has worked as a registered nurse for more than 19 years, says humour can build rapport, establish communication, and enable a therapeutic relationship; all of which are essential skills for nurses. However, it is not currently recognised as part of the professional toolkit.

“I have worked in a variety of clinical settings over my nursing career and one thing that has stayed static over that time is my belief in the power of humour for connecting people, so I was really interested to explore the perspective of other nurses on this topic,” she says.

“There is also currently very little guidance for nurses regarding how and when to use humour, which may discourage them from using it in their practice.”

Shelley’s research focused on an area of nursing where patients may have higher levels of anxiety and stress —the surgical ward. She worked with research participants who were registered nurses within two ward settings: the general surgical ward, and peri-operative services.

The study identified three key themes around how and why they would use humour in their practice: to assess openness, to build a connection, and to protect against vulnerability—both for patients and for the nurses themselves.

“Nurses are acutely aware that in a surgical environment they will not have much time with the patient—humour can very quickly bridge the gap between nurse and patient,” says Shelley.

“For the patient, that connection can help them feel more comfortable during a dehumanising and stressful situation.”

Shelley’s study is believed to be a first for New Zealand, and she hopes that it will raise awareness of humour as an effective tool in patient care. She is also interested in further exploring how culture can impact on the use of humour in nursing practice.

“I want to stimulate discussion about how we can use humour properly and effectively in our care,” she says.



  1. I have for years used nursing in my career. Especially in ED. I believe it is very underrated tool in my arsenal. A colleague once said to me that they always knew where I was.

  2. Interesting. Funnily enough the recovery nurses after my surgery were so funny yet so professional, making this short time the best of my recent hospital stay. Way to go. The paramedics were also very amusing which eased what could have been a very stressful time, into a manageable one. Something I hope to emulate if I ever make it through my studies.

  3. Laughter a true healer when the situation is assessed properly. The room has to be right for it and stitches must never be breached.
    In my 35 year career from day one it’s humour that has got me and my patient’s appropriately through some of the best times and difficult times of a hospital stay.
    Endorphins are released which aid the healing process. Seretonin in the brain rises which aids alleviating the pain of depessive thoughts.
    Who would ever have thought a little laughter can go such a long way to healing our most special vulnerable patients. What a gift.


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