Observations Ethics Man

No laughing matter

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2119 (Published 21 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2119
  1. Daniel K Sokol, honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics, Imperial College London, and barrister
  1. daniel.sokol{at}talk21.com

One doctor’s “banter” is another’s offensive remark

“Hilarity and good humour, a breezy cheerfulness,” wrote William Osler, “help enormously both in the study and in the practice of medicine.”1 Dreary is the workplace where humour is absent.

Dr Jones would have concurred with these statements. Banter, he would say, formed part of the culture. Yet, Dr Jones is soon to appear in front of a disciplinary panel for making inappropriate remarks to colleagues in the operating theatre. He commented on a nurse’s posterior. This made her feel uncomfortable. He also made an off the cuff remark about a colleague’s sexuality, and on another occasion he joked about a racial stereotype. When questioned by his lawyer about these incidents, he dismissed them as “friendly banter,” innocuous chatter, and described the informal, bawdy culture in the surgery department. The lawyer knows it will be an uphill struggle. His counterpart will have plenty of ammunition when cross examining Dr Jones. In the cold light of day he will come across as a rude, disrespectful, unprofessional …

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