They are known as Medical Clowns and this new, and unique, type of medical opportunity has taken Israel, and much of the rest of the world, by proverbial storm. It is known as The Dream Doctors Project and is based at, and operated by, the Magi Foundation in Israel.
The idea for Dream Doctors was begun in 2002 and, today, over 70 clowns work in twenty five of Israel’s largest hospitals and medical centers. The medical clowns employ Clown therapy and move relatively freely between hospital departments. No longer are clowns simply relegated to pediatrics.
Improving care and taking on paramedical status
The Clowns declare that their treatment, their therapy, has proven to improve immune system response and strength as well as easing physical pain and stress related anxiety. Studies have long shown the power of humor, and especially laughter, having measurable effects on the human body and its reactions in medical situation.
Laughter has long lowered cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a chemical that is released by the body when face with the “fight-or-flight” situation. That is a condition of high stress and high anxiety and laughter has proven to alleviate it by lowering the amount of cortisol produced.
In addition, laughter tends to release endorphins into the body which helps to alleviate pain as the endorphins are a natural pain killer. Laughter has also proven to increase the strength of the immune system and relieve depression that can be caused from people being in such a high stress environment as a hospital.
The aim of the Magi Foundation, and the Dream Doctors themselves, is that they become recognized as needed, and trained, paramedical professionals that are integrated into the everyday life of the medical staff and the patients. They see themselves as true therapists.
Toward that end, The University of Haifa has begun a three year degree program in Medical Clowning at its campus in Northern Israel.
Improving outcomes, increasing productivity, and maybe, cutting some costs
The clowns work hard at their chosen profession and the medical community has begun to see, not only the positive effects they have on patients, but that they may be contributing in cutting certain medical costs. That is an area that has yet to be fully explored yet would be welcomed news to the hard pressed bottom lines of the hospital business itself.
In limited studies, conducted in Israel, women undergoing in-vitro fertilization saw greater success when clowns were brought in. Their therapies allowed the female patients to become more at ease and relaxed which allowed the fertilized egg to take hold at a higher rate than normal. In addition, the laughter therapy has shown progress with regard to older patients suffering from dementia.
Another study showed profound results as 137 children out of 142 that were monitored did not need any manner of sedation while undergoing scans for certain urinary tract infections. Because of the effectiveness of the clown therapy, doctors are seeing patients using less medicine and, many times, patients are up and around and being discharged before many doctors would think possible. The ramifications could be enormous as hospitals relate the clown therapy to a decrease in the costs of patient stays, drugs, and procedures.
Medical clowning spreads yet new business opportunity remains elusive
Medical Clowning has begun to take hold in many countries throughout the world but it is looked upon, for the most part, with a skeptical eye by the American medical professions. Some think that clowns have a somewhat negative connotation in the United States so medical clowning has been slow to catch on in America. Many European countries, however, have welcomed the Israeli model and are seeing success with its integration efforts.
Medical clowning was first introduced by legendary American circus performer Michael Christensen back in 1986. Christensen, one of the founders of The Big Apple Circus, called his new venture Clown Care. They took initial training and were sent out to minister at hospitals in the New York City area. Currently, there are 80 or so Clown Doctors working in the US and Canada, as well as in other countries from Australia to Europe.
Christensen still keeps his loving hand in it and is heartened by the reception it has received. He sees great promise for the profession in the future. Christensen knows how powerless a child can feel and he often switches roles with a child he is visiting. He will become the patient and ask the child for help even if it is something as simple as getting advice on his wardrobe. Christensen says the children love it and brighten as they instruct him with regard to straightening his hat or fixing some buttons that have gone askew.
Though definitely in the infancy stages, this new profession and business opportunity may very well be the medicine that the modern medical profession needs. Clowns provide therapies that work without drugs or procedures, keeping the patients in a more relaxed frame of mind. They often increase hospital productivity by freeing up medical staff who can now attend to other areas of concern.
It certainly seems as if this profession and related future business opportunities are on the cutting edge.
Article by Kevin Sawyer