Israeli medical clowns put smiles on the faces of sick patients, but their critical work is no laughing matter!
Israeli medical clown Nir Raz, 50, brought joy, healing and care to JJ Hospital in Mumbai, India on Friday. Not only did he entertain and help sick children, he also assisted doctors, nurses and students.
Raz, a theater artist and director, has been a medical clown for 10 years and works at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in central Israel. Israel has been on the cutting edge of medical clowning for more than a decade. Medical clowns not only provide entertainment to patients and staff, they are also integral to treatment processes.
According to the Dream Doctors Project, which promotes medical clowning as an officially recognized para-profession, medical clowns reduce anxiety in patients and their families, lessen pain, alleviate depression, reduce trauma, increase success in in-vitro fertilization treatment resulting in pregnancy, and create a more relaxed atmosphere for doctors and nurses to treat patients.
Not least of all, they also empower patients to cope with their illness.
Raz arrived at the Mumbai pediatric ward dressed as a puppy. He donned floppy ears, a black nose and an animated dog smile on his face, according to an Indian Express report.
“In hospitals, patients find themselves in an unfamiliar environment,” Raz said, according to the Express. “The hospital gown and long drawn out treatment can depress them and their families. I try to play with them, create characters out of diseases to make the treatment process easier.”
Medical clowns train for approximately five months. They not only need a strong background in acting, street theater and physical clowning, but also psychology, nursing and medicine.
Medical Clowns Help Heal
Dozens of studies have proven that medical clowns benefit healing. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also chosen the country’s medical clowns to represent Israel abroad as a way to build relationships abroad. They have worked all over the world providing training programs, participating in conferences, and embarking on humanitarian missions.
Raz visited about 40 children at the hospital, using his antics to bring smiles and laughter to a place often too somber to bare.
One child blew soap bubbles, another was told to punch the air which caused the clown to fall on the ground and a third was asked to blow air and pretend that he was flying away.
He also used humor to describe, in a language that children can understand, how the body works. For example, he said that the liver is a “cleaning lady who has refused to work and insulin shots are soldiers who will destroy diabetes,” according to the Express.
“The idea is to make them feel powerful and strong to fight diseases so that they don’t think they are weak,” he explained.
According to Dr. Pallavi Saple, Dean at JJ Hospital, standard clowns are invited to the hospital on Children’s Day.
“But, they don’t have expertise to discuss medicine,” she noted. “Therapeutic clowns are skilled. They know about diseases and they can communicate with patients. In the last few years, we have been learning the importance of communication skills. Something like this is being considered for JJ hospital,” she added.
Raz visits countries worldwide as a volunteer to spread awareness about the positive impact medical clowns have on patients and medical professionals.
And that’s no laughing matter.