Journal of Nursing
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Baylor Grapevine Nurse Says Laughter Is The Best Medicine

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By Marty Sabota

Melissa Williams has a good prescription for helping her patients: this nurse loves clowning around.

“It’s just in my heart,” said Williams, whose uniform at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine includes a clown wig and a rubber chicken named Gordon. “Everybody deserves to laugh at least once a day.”

The nurse educator likens her philosophy to clown and social activist Patch Adams, a doctor who was made famous through a 1998 film starring Robin Williams. Adams believes that laughter, joy and creativity are an integral part of the healing process and, with the help of friends, he founded the Gesundheit Institute.

She attended one of his retreats early in her career and learned fun, outside-the-box ways of providing healthcare that included giving out hugs and dressing up like a clown.

“In the hospital, people and family are having the worst day of their lives, so if you can make them giggle and laugh, that’s a huge thing,” Williams, 33, said. “Everyone deserves to laugh at least once a day.”

But for Williams, who grew up in a “very funny family” that had a lot of shaving cream and water fights and carries the “clown gene,” making a connection between laughter and its medical benefits developed as a teenager in high school.

During her maternal grandfather’s frequent hospitalization for chronic illnesses, she’d combat his depression over his lengthy stays by peppering their conversation with jokes and funny vignettes — something she picked up from a few special nurses.

“Just because things are serious doesn’t mean there isn’t room for laughter. Your body needs it,” she said.

Laughter, experts say, enhances oxygen intake, stimulating the lungs, heart and muscles. It also relieves tension and stress, decreases depression and anxiety and increases productivity.”

Her grandfather’s hospitalization made her rethink her career choice to become a first-grade teacher.

“I realized the only thing that directly affected quality of life was nursing,” Williams said.

She graduated from Texas Woman’s University in 2006. Along the way, she made pocket money appearing as “clown nurse” at birthday parties and other light-hearted venues.

Her fledgling job as a nurse in Dallas allowed her to take her fun approach to nursing to a real-life stage. Her uniform was supplemented by a tutu, a red nose and other clown fare she found at local businesses.

Today, she has a “whole suitcase” full of silly stuff, including a hot dog hat, crazy glasses, a super hero cape, a rubber chicken named Gordon and silly socks and shoes.

Introducing herself as “Bubbles” to patients, Williams repertoire includes a bubble gun and at least seven bottles of bubbles.

“No one can frown if there are bubbles in the air,” the nurse said.

Williams, a professional development specialist who has worked for Baylor since 2010, has shared her silly secrets with co-workers through a philosophy she calls “laughter-based rounding,” meaning to share her goofiness when making hospital rounds. It’s good for the patients, and caregivers as well.

“It’s good to get to know the patient and have a funny theme,” said the nurse educator, whose job includes teaching co-workers how to be better at their profession. “Sometimes nurses become so task focused they don’t stop to realize they can talk to the patients, too.”

Williams estimates that more than 600 Baylor Scott & White Health nurses at hospitals across North Texas have attended one of her presentations. She’s also spoken at other forums, reaching more than 1,000 nurses and healthcare professionals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Everybody has to realize you don’t have to check your humor at the front door of the hospital,” Williams said.



 
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Editor-in Chief:
Kirsten Nicole

Editorial Staff:
Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Robyn Bowman
Kimberly McNabb
Lisa Gordon
Stephanie Robinson

Contributors:
Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Liz Di Bernardo
Cris Lobato
Elisa Howard
Susan Cramer