Medical Clowns


Alissa Woolf, HA Executive Director talks to Henry Greener on TheShtick.TV about Medical Clowns.
Hadassah Hospital introduced medical clowns to Israel in 2002. Today, every major hospital in Israel has them and they are empowering patients and staff in what is being termed a ‘medical revolution with a happy face’.

Every dollar we raise buys one minute of a medical clown’s time at Hadassah. Each minute frees up about three and a half minutes of medical resources for its young patients. Research shows that medically-trained clowns reduce the stress levels in children, making it easier for medical staff to provide their services, which results in a shorter hospital stay for the children.

“We need to raise $260,000 this financial year to ensure the survival of the medical clown program at Hadassah,” says Alissa Woolf, Executive Director at Hadassah Australia.

Medical clowns are so important in Israel that the discipline is taught in university. The late Professor David Branski, the former Director of the Pediatric Division at Hadassah and a pioneer in the field of paediatrics, said:

“I can no longer imagine our professional lives without the clowns. None of us can.” 

Israel was the only country to send medical clowns to Nepal as members of the IDF’s emergency response teams after the devastating earthquake in April, 2015. Our very own ‘DuSH’, the head medical clown at Hadassah, was part of that team as he had been in Haiti and and previous global hot spots.

No hospital in Israel has the resources to fund medical clowns out of its operating budget. It might seem ironic given that these clowns make a demonstrable difference to a hospital’s bottom line, but this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. So hospitals rely on donations. If these dry up, the program will be curtailed and, in the worst possible scenario, will be forced to close.

A typical day for a medical clown at Hadassah

Clowns are present in our paediatric in-patient and intensive care units, outpatient clinics, acute-care waiting rooms, physical therapy, bone marrow transplant, burns and paediatric AIDS units. It reminds young patients that they are more than just their illness. They use their skills to help children deal with a range of emotions they may experience while in the hospital; fear, anxiety, loneliness and boredom. They provide the ‘wonder drug’ of laughter to reduce pain by relaxing patients and help them cope with difficult situations. The head of Hadassah’s cafeteria franchise won’t accept payment from the clowns for their coffee; they are, he says, performing “holy work.”

The Medical Effect of Clowning

According to Prof. Eitan Kerem, head of Pediatrics at Hadassah-Ein Kerem,

The hospital clowns help acutely ill children lose their fear of hospitalisation and treatment, and they forge a deep connection with the chronically-sick youngsters, 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. For all our youngsters, the clowns turn the hospital experience into something pleasurable.

Doctors and nurses use the assistance of the clowns in the treatment of various medical procedures from simple blood tests to the escorting of children to operating rooms, from physiotherapy to HIV treatment and emergency room actions. Laughter, like exercise, can reduce stress, improve tolerance to pain, and alter bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, muscle activity, and stomach acidity. Unlike medical staff who come and go based on the procedural timetable, Hadassah’s clowns stay with a child only if invited, allowing hospitalised youngsters to decide what they want. The clowns can also motivate children. Doctors and therapists at Hadassah note that 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.

Request for Support

Your help is needed for us to cover the annual program cost of $260,000.

Throughout the year, the medical clown team provides much needed comfort and laughter to Hadassah’s paediatric patients and their parents. There are six clowns working at Hadassah. The clowns move from department to department and from room to room every day in order to ensure that each sick child will have an opportunity to laugh and be calmed.

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