Between two worlds

Medical student perceptions of humor and slang in the hospital setting
  • Genevieve Noone Parsons
  • Sara B. Kinsman
  • Charles L. Bosk
  • Pamela Sankar
  • Peter A. UbelEmail author
Original Articles


OBJECTIVE: Residents frequently use humor and slang at the expense of patients on the clinical wards. We studied how medical students react to and interpret the “appropriateness” of derogatory and cynical humor and slang in a clinical setting.

DESIGN: Semistructured, in-depth interviews.

SETTING: Informal meeting spaces.

PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-three medical students.

MEASUREMENTS: Qualitative content analysis of interview transcriptions.

MAIN RESULTS: Students’ descriptions of the humorous stories and their responses reveal that students are able to take the perspective of both outsiders and insiders in the medical culture. Students’ responses to these stories show that they can identify the outsider’s perspective both by seeing themselves in the outsider’s role and by identifying with patients. Students can also see the insider’s perspective, in that they identify with residents’ frustrations and disappointments and therefore try to explain why residents use this kind of humor. Their participation in the humor and slang—often with reservations—further reveals their ability to identify with the perspective of an insider.

CONCLUSIONS: Medical students describe a number of conflicting reactions to hospital humor that may enhance and exacerbate tensions that are already an inevitable part of training for many students. This phenomenon requires greater attention by medical educators.

Key words

medical education ethics qualitative interview medical students medical humor 


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Copyright information

© Blackwell Science Inc 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Genevieve Noone Parsons
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sara B. Kinsman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Charles L. Bosk
    • 1
    • 4
  • Pamela Sankar
    • 1
  • Peter A. Ubel
    • 5
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Received from the Center for BioethicsUniversity of Pennsylvania School of MedicinePhiladelphia
  2. 2.the Department of PediatricsJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore
  3. 3.the Craig-Dalsimer, Division of Adolescent MedicineThe Children’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia
  4. 4.the Department of SociologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia
  5. 5.the Division of General Internal MedicineUniversity of Michigan School of MedicineAnn Arbor
  6. 6.the Veterans Affairs Medical CenterAnn Arbor

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