Patch Adams was a hospital clown in the 1970s and is considered the first hospital clown. He was portrayed in the movie Patch Adams by Robin Williams, bringing attention to hospital clowning. I find it fascinating that Robin Williams was himself someone who experienced extremes of mood, and used this to great effect in his acting career, entering the hearts of many.
Professional Clown Doctors began working in hospitals in 1986 under a programme called the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, which was started in New York City. I will visit New York on Part 2 of my Churchill Fellowship to explore best examples of arts and health initiatives there.
Boston Children’s Hospital recently won awards for its cast of clowns and performing artists, who improve children’s stays in hospitals and help keep them calm. Importantly, parents too end up laughing, and the emotional state of parents is where children take their cue from.
Because as I am currently right in the middle of my Fellowship research tour of Finland, I don’t have time now to give this the write up it deserves, but I can think of countless ways in which Hospital Clowns exert benefits. Hospitals and treatment can be scary; clowning around can:
- Normalise: familiarise children with procedures and make it okay to ask questions
- Distract from negative emotions, which can be a very effective pain management tool
- Offer families the chance to play together in challenging circumstances
- Foster connection between family members, and between families and staff
- Support parents to manage tension and stress, which impacts on child wellbeing
- Facilitate imaginative approaches to delivering distressing treatments
- Make the child and family feel that their holistic needs matter to the people caring for them
- Essentially reduce the trauma around hospital admissions and procedures
- Ultimately in terms of efficacy, research shows that the presence of Hospital Clowns can reduce complications and improve cost effectiveness
You can find pictures from Finland’s Hospital Clown Facebook page (Facebook is used heavily here for work and for spreading awareness or messages).
From the Finnish website:
Hospital Clowns Association is an association whose trained artists circulate in children’s wards entertaining and delighting the small patients and their families. Clown doctors let children forget about their illness for a while and give permission to feel good, releasing laughter and whimsy to the hospital in the middle of working days.
Sairaalaklovnien work always takes place in the child’s conditions and in cooperation with the staff. Happy memorial clowns help the processing of hospital experience afterwards.
Sairaalaklovnien action is constant and regular. Operations today are conducted in all university hospitals, a total of 10 days a week. Clowns have a background in professional performers and they are trained to work in a demanding hospital environment.
– Avital Dvory, Yaron Goshen, Shoshana Ruimi, Sergei Bikov, Raphael Halevy & Ariel Koren. 2016. Dream Doctor Intervention Instead of sedation: Performing Radionuclide Scanning without sedation in young children: A Study in 142 patients. The Journal of alternative and complementary medicine. Vol 22. No 5. 2016 pp. 408-412
– Laura Vagnoli, Simona Caprilli, Arianna Robiglio & Andrea Messeri. 2005. Clown Doctors as a Treatment for Preoperative Anxiety in Children: A Randomized, Prospective Study. Pediatrics. Oct 2005, VOL 116/ISSUE 4
– Laura Vagnoli, Simona Caprilli & Andrea Messeri. 2010. Parental presence, clowns or sedative premedication to treat preoperative anxiety in children: What could be the most promising option. Pain service. A Meyer children hospital. Florence. Italy.
– Stanislav Kocherow, Yaniv Hen, Sol Jaworowski, Israel Ostrovsky, Arthur J. Edelman, Yakov Gozal & Boris Chertin. 2016. Medical clowns reduce pre-operative anxiety, postoperative pain and medical costs in children undergoing outpatient penile surgery: A Randomized, Contolled trial. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health. 52(2016) 877-881