The nurses are initially skeptical of this goofy student who wears Hawaiian shirts and raises the decibel level on the ward. They observe that, until Adams becomes a third-year student, they outrank him. However, they quickly come to see the value of his approach and start to give him support, usually by simply failing to report his unauthorized presence in the wards.
Which humor for doctors? (1998, January 3). Lancet, 451(9095), 1.
Godbey, S. F., Wolfe, Y. L., George, S. C., & Chillot, R. (1997, May). Laugh it down: Use your funny bone to subdue stress. Prevention, 49(5), 30.
Deciding what is funny is, of course, a subjective exercise. The Lancet (1998, January 3) argues, "Humour in medicine has no realistic definition" (p. 1), and many critics found the humor in Patch Adams to be strained or simply not very funny. Robin Williams' screen persona, a wild, improvisatory, out-of-control personality, may have seemed ideal casting to play the unconventional, goofy Adams, but Williams' celebrity keeps him from disappearing into the character, and the humor is, at times, simply not very funny.
Although Mitch eventually comes to see the value in Adams' approach, his attitude continues to be held by many in the profession. An anonymous editorial in The Lancet (1998, January 3) contends that physicians have other tools more valuable than humor: "Ask patients would they rather have a doctor who made them laugh or the longer term benefits of one who is courageous and hopeful, and who loved them?" (p. 1). The implied response to this rhetorical question is that any sane patient would give up the laughs in exchange for other qualities. Patch Adams suggests that a sense of humor is not only compatible with other qualities that make an effective doctor but that it is just as important as competence and compassion.
Shadyac, T. (1998). Patch Adams. Universal Pictures.