The Magic of Medical Clowns
Because laughter is magical medicine, the Hadassah University Medical Center has a dynamic Medical Clown Program, which puts a smile on the faces of its pediatric patients.
Introduced in September 2002, Hadassah's Medical Clown Program was the first of its kind in Israel. Clowns are now on hand in the pediatric in-patient and intensive care units, outpatient clinics, acute-care waiting rooms, and the physical therapy, bone marrow transplant, burn, and pediatric AIDS units--easing the stress of serious illness with the healing power of humor. With doses of fun, Hadassah's renowned team of medical clowns helps the children deal with the range of emotions they may experience while in the hospital--fear, anxiety, loneliness, and boredom.
Aside from being professionally trained, the clowns share an intense empathy with children. "I look into a child's eyes and see the person, not the illness," says Jerome, one of the medical clowns. "I don't even think about the illness until I've left the hospital."
According to Prof. Dan Engelhard, the clowns have made "an extraordinary impact" on the Pediatrics Division. "They forge a deep connection with the chronically sick youngsters," he says, "even those who are withdrawn and remote. Once the clowns reach them, it opens the way for the medical staff to do so as well."
The presence of the medical clowns has become a natural part of hospital care at Hadassah. Nurses and doctors call upon the clowns to help the children get through medical procedures such as simple blood tests; the clowns escort children to operating rooms; and they sit with the kids as they receive treatment in emergency rooms or physical therapy. A child can get excited about reaching for a bubble blown by a clown, even if it involves the same movement he or she was resisting moments earlier.
Studies have shown that laughter, just like exercise, can reduce stress, improve tolerance to pain, and alter bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, muscle activity, and stomach acidity. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin, the "feel good hormones" that create feelings of euphoria and happiness.