Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)


Gallows humor is commonly used in the ED, but little has been researched about it. The purpose of the investigation was to explore in depth the meaning of gallows humor by inquiring into and gaining an understanding of the essence of emergency nurses’ lived experience with the use of gallows humor. This qualitative, phenomenological investigation was guided by van Manen’s (1990) method, a hermeneutic phenomenological approach. Purposive sampling (Polit & Hungler, 1995) was used to choose respondents who were especially knowledgeable about the use of gallows humor. Consequently, eight respondents from a Midwestern urban hospital ED, were selected based on their scores on the Emergency Nurse Gallows Humor Use Subjective Experience Assessment. Unstructured interviews were conducted to generate data. Interviews were tape recorded and transcribed. An inquiry audit was conducted to determine the trustworthiness of the findings. The theory of human becoming by Parse (1992) provided the framework for this investigation. Based on this theory, the emergency nurses’ realities created mutually by the nurses and their environment were explored by seeking the meanings of emergency nurses’ lived experience with gallows humor. The findings of this investigation suggested that the reality created when emergency nurses use gallows humor is a positive, stress-reducing and performance-enhancing experience. Emergency nurses described the use of gallows humor as spontaneous, occurred more often than realized, and produced only positive outcomes. The central theme that emerged from the findings of this investigation indicated that gallows humor for an emergency nurse is a release valve for stress, tension, and anxiety. The essential themes, included: (a) the ED milieu, and (b) professional socialization through work experience. These aspects were influential in the use of gallows humor by emergency nurses. An implication of the findings for nurse educators is the usefulness of humor as a self-care strategy. Nurses desire and need this information to endure the highly stressful emergency setting, and discussions of gallows humor would be appropriate for nursing curricula. An implication for practice includes a better understanding of the ED environment. The findings suggested that for emergency nurses gallows humor, if used appropriately has positive outcomes, can enhance clinical performance and slows nurse burnout. Further research is needed to clearly understand the use of gallows humor by emergency nurses. Extending this investigation by using a larger purposive sample of emergency nurses from multiple EDs to generate data until no new themes emerged is important. Other recommended areas of research include: (a) measuring the level of stress in emergency nurses and the effects gallows humor has on the stress level, and (b) further studying how the use of gallows humor by emergency nurses evolves with clinical experience.


Eileen Deges Curl

Date of Award

Summer 1999

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


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