Laugh to Lighten the Load

It can be hard to find humor in a profession filled with burnout and high rates of mental health issues. But some professionals say that is precisely why it is so important to bring the element of humor into vet med.

By Maureen Blaney Flietner

No Kidding, the Right Humor Can Help Ease the Stress

Why did the veterinary team cross the road?

Sorry, you will have to provide the punch line.

What? You’re no comedian? Well, most of us aren’t.

But, according to several sources—including veterinarians who perform comedy as a side gig—all of us can find ways to bring humor into days that can sometimes be too strained.

After all, what is humor anyway? It’s not just one-liners or knock-knock jokes. According to Paul Osincup, a humor strategist, keynote speaker, and past president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor from Bozeman, Montana, it can simply be anything you find funny or amusing. It may not even evoke laughter, although it usually does.

Osincup should know. While his professional life has focused on conflict resolution, mental health, and substance abuse issues, he also performs stand-up and improv comedy. And as one who has worked with many veterinary hospitals and associations and is the husband of a veterinary oncologist, he is aware of the unique stressors experienced by veterinarians and hospital staff.

He advised that humor has a place in the veterinary workday as both a tool and an important shared social experience.

“I feel that humor is important in veterinary medicine and can help people relate with one another, encourage team building, improve morale, and decrease stress levels.”

—Marie Sato Quicksall, DVM, CVA

“Humor reduces hierarchical distance in organizations and makes leaders seem more approachable, confident, and competent. Humor brings people together,” he said. “In fact, people who laugh together report higher levels of liking one another. Humor reduces stress. It floods our brains with a dose of happiness hormones and I literally mean D.O.S.E.—dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. It also reduces the stress-causing hormone cortisol.”

They Found Their Way with Humor

Andy Roark, DVM, veterinarian with the AAHA-accredited Travelers Rest Animal Hospital in South Carolina and founder of Uncharted Veterinary Conference and, is on the same page. He said he has always used humor to get messages heard so veterinary professionals can be happier and more effective.

Roark’s Facebook page, which he says is “for those seeking happiness, humor, and (possibly) wisdom in veterinary medicine,” includes such video posts as one in May urging his viewers to join his “Hope Punk Rebellion” with “tiny acts of rebellion to make someone happier, their day somewhat better, than it was before.”

“Humor is a great way to speak to people and get them to listen,” he noted. “As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.’”

Frank Bozelka, DVM, on staff at the AAHA-accredited VCA Arboretum View Animal Hospital in Downers Grove, Illinois, was an amateur stand-up comedian until halfway through veterinary school. Since he said he tends to look for and find the humor in most situations, he went from making a few humorous educational videos on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook to starting up a YouTube channel.

“Even if something doesn’t necessarily seem funny, my mind tries to make it funny. I try to make myself smile and, if I think others will find it funny, I share my comments and thoughts to make them smile. I feel people learn best when they are having fun.”

Marie Sato Quicksall, DVM, CVA, associate veterinarian at Day Road Animal Hospital, Bainbridge Island, Washington, said she is that clinic’s resident prankster.

“I feel that humor is important in veterinary medicine and can help people relate with one another, encourage team building, improve morale, and decrease stress levels. As an associate, humor is one of the ways I can help positively influence morale without being the person in charge of policies and procedures.”

Coffee cup and an uncapped, un-opened tube of lubricant with googly eyes on themMarie Sato Quicksall started placing “googly eyes” around the hospital during COVID to bring a chuckle to the workday.

Besides being a veterinarian with Animal Clinic of Brandon in Brandon, Florida, Dean Scott, DVM, draws comics, writes humor books, and creates song parodies and YouTube skits so that those in the profession know that “while, yes, our job deals with serious matters, there are moments of lightness, of humor, to be found.”

His search for humor began in veterinary school when he discovered what he thought were absurdities in how students were taught. That led to his two-volume “Vet School Survival Guides” so others experiencing such issues don’t have to feel isolated or unworthy.

That effort then morphed into a three-volume “Lighter Side of Veterinary Medicine,” which he compiled for the past 30 years of his career. It was created with the “same thought. Same results. Let’s use humor to deflate or mitigate the negative aspects of our profession,” he said. “Humor acknowledges the hard edges of our experiences and tries to take a hammer to them to smooth them out.”

Morgan McArthur, DVM, now a University of Wisconsin Extension educator in Baraboo, Wisconsin, said his varied career path has included working at a mixed animal practice in Idaho and in the pharmaceutical industry for a decade in New Zealand—which he often jokes was part of the Federal Witness Protection Program.

“The more we look for the funny things in life, the more we will begin to see them without trying.”

—Paul Osincup, humor strategist

But it was this self-described class clown’s involvement with Toastmasters that was the “most profound difference maker” for him personally. He said it helped him to develop confidence and later become a professional speaker (M2 VetSpeak Consulting) and “hire myself out as a veterinary storyteller/jester around the world.”

He noted that “there is a lot of dark stuff in the veterinary profession—euthanasias, online bullying, helicopter pet parents—all of this pressure comes piling on. How do you process that? I’m a big believer that laughter is life’s lubricant. We all find ourselves in tight spots. When you’re in the middle of a mess, it’s not always easy to laugh your way out. But in time, many bad experiences become good stories; it just takes some time to get to that space and place.”

Health Tip: Exercise Your Silly Sense

If you agree with humor strategist Paul Osincup—“I don’t want to get to the end and realize I was living my life as a drama when it was supposed to be a comedy”—you may want to consider these ideas from some of our sources about finding the humor in the workday and being in the right mindset to take ourselves a little less seriously.

Paul Osincup

“Recite a ‘mirthful’ mantra. Consider everything from movie quotes like Dr. Evil saying, ‘Throw me a frickin’ bone here’ to song lyrics like sarcastically singing ‘Everything is awesome!’ from The Lego Movie. Come up with something that will be a reframing signal that the stress of the moment will be gotten through.” —Paul Osincup

“Create a staff ‘mulletin’ board with every staff photo given a mullet and put on a break room bulletin board to be voted on.” —Paul Osincup

“Stuff a humor jar with the random funny things that happen throughout a day that can be shared occasionally at morning rounds or in team meetings.” —Paul Osincup

“Celebrate! Recently everyone worked to throw a sweet 16 birthday party for Lily, our clinic cat, complete with balloons, decorations, food, cupcakes, catnip, and a pink dress for Lily.” —Marie Sato Quicksall, DVM, CVA

“Pull light-hearted pranks on the other team (which Quicksall’s team began doing during the pandemic). One example: Place googly eyes around the building to startle and amuse the other team.” —Marie Sato Quicksall, DVM, CVA

Morgan McArthur, DVM

“At the end of the day, list three good things that happened that day. It forces us to be more aware and more conscious, more intentional, about seeking the good—hunting for the good—as opposed to just marinating in misery.” —Morgan McArthur, DVM

“Have hobbies that don’t have anything to do with pets or the veterinary profession. We should all have people in our lives who don’t really know or care about what we do for a living. I think this is a key part of being able to detach and recharge.” —Andy Roark, DVM

Frank Bozelka, DVM

“Get to know your team. Be willing to crack jokes or make light of and poke fun at yourself and situations, even if they are a bit stressful. Positivity and negativity are both contagious, and we choose which one we bring to stressful situations.” —Frank Bozelka, DVM

Dean Scott, DVM

“Create a nonjudgmental, accepting work environment, and the humor will follow because people are comfortable with each other.” —Dean Scott, DVM

“Keep everyone’s go-to stress release snacks and drinks on hand.” —Dean Scott, DVM

Will Heckman

“Celebrate successes. Laugh together. Make it part of the workplace culture. Workplace environments that celebrate humor may have less burnout and less absenteeism.” —Will Heckman

“Create an environment where people trust each other. Surround yourself with those who make you laugh. You are more likely to laugh with a friend than to laugh alone.” —Caleb Warren, PhD

It May Be Funny to You, But…

“Humor is such an intangible thing. Like stress, it is not experienced in the same way by all people,” explained Will Heckman, a former educator and police officer and now executive director of the American Institute of Stress (, Weatherford, Texas.

“Our knowledge about stress is not the same as a diagnosable problem, like anxiety or depression. You and I can be in the same situation and experiencing the same thing and we will experience stress levels and stress reactions differently because we are different people. It’s just like what I find funny and what you find funny also may be different.”

That’s why, Heckman said, humor, especially the dark humor that comes from parts of the job that only those in the profession understand, has to be appropriate to the time and place.

“We do have to be careful when joking as to not offend the team, which can be very difficult in today’s world,” said Bozelka. “What you find funny, others may not. There is a very fine line between comedic gold and straight up awkward, inappropriate, and offensive comments. Start with PG material, and as the team gets to know each other they will learn how R-rated they can get with each other.”

“Remember that humor alone isn’t a good thing,” noted Roark. “Lots of people say terribly mean things to get laughs from others. People can be cynical, toxic, and funny. Focus on being positive and happy at work in your humor, and skip chances to be funny that would tear someone else (clients, colleagues, etc.) down.”


According to Caleb Warren, PhD, associate professor of marketing, University of Arizona, who has been studying humor for more than a decade, the idea that laughter—one outward sign of humor—is the best medicine is anecdotal at best since there have been few randomized controlled studies. However, he noted, there is some evidence that certain types of humor can help people recover from stressful situations and contentious interactions.

“I’m a big believer that laughter is life’s lubricant.”

—Morgan McArthur, DVM

“People want to see humor as causing all of these good things,” said Warren. “But it depends on how you make something funny. It would be great to have more laughter in the workplace. It’s really hard to do in practice. The reason is, if you just tell people to try to be funnier, it’s really difficult to be funny. The most likely outcome is that you fail and that you either annoy or offend people.

“If you can create an environment where people trust others aren’t trying to put them down and aren’t offended by attempts to be funny, it will be easier to create humor and laugh at it.”

No Joke, You Can Learn to Find the Humor

Humor can be learned, explained Osincup. “A lot of people like the concept of using humor but think, ‘I’m just not that talented.’ Any comedian will tell you that it’s more about consistent practice than anything.

“Humor is not a talent. Humor is a habit. Just like learning any new skill like playing a musical instrument or learning a new language, you practice, make it a habit, and build your sense of humor like a muscle. Neurons that fire together, wire together, so the more we look for the funny things in life, the more we will begin to see them without trying.”

Gratitude, said McArthur, can be an important factor in finding humor.

“People will say, ‘Well, I’m not funny.’ Veterinarians by nature are data driven, evidence based, and often relate down that scientific track. But know that we don’t have to be stand-up blinking comics. A simple strategy is to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful and intentional because we can always just grizzle about the drizzle. But the drizzle is going to give you grass. Of course, that means mowing…

“We don’t have to look very far to find someone who is having to acquire a taste for a fecal sandwich, right? That’s why it’s really important to put the brakes on at the end of day and recalibrate. We need to believe in that fuzzy little bumper sticker phrase: Have an attitude of gratitude.”

Maureen Blaney Flietner is an award-winning freelance writer and illustrator living in Wisconsin.

Photo credits: Photos courtesy of Marie Sato Quicksall, DVM, CVA, ©AAHA/Kate Moore, Dean Scott, DVM, Frank Bozelka, DVM, Morgan McArthur, DVM, Paul Osincup, Will Heckman



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