• A medical clown makes faces as an Israeli boy receives polio vaccination at a clinic in Ramle, entral Israel, August 19, 2013. Israel's Health Ministry started a mass vaccination action for more than one million children in Israel | Photo: Yossi Zeliger / Flash90

Laughing Back to Health

Tal Hartuv - 8 March 2022

In Israeli hospitals there is a good chance that standing next to the doctor or nurse is someone donning a big red nose, a lipstick smile and a silly hat, trying to make a child laugh. These medical clowns are the inspiration of the Dream Doctors Project.

“Founded twenty years ago, the charity is picky about who is suitable for the job”

Founded twenty years ago, the charity is picky about who is suitable for the job. Most successful clown candidates are mature people who have families. It is important they have experience with children. A love of theatre and the arts is also vital. But it doesn’t stop there. Once chosen, the charity urges them to study for a degree at Haifa University, in the one-of-a-kind accredited BA program in “clown therapy.”

The ethos behind the project is about taking a dreadful reality and helping the child to experience it from another place. Dream Doctors Project knows from experience that the best way to work with children is with the imagination of their own world. It is about empowering them, and offering the child some positive relief. Children come to understand that laughter and pain, joy and sadness, are all part of life.

The idea has been so successful that it is now an officially recognised paramedical profession, and one that has caught on throughout the world. Unlike in other hospitals around the globe where the clowns have their own time with the kids after the doctors’ visits are over, in Israel the clowns are an essential part of the visit itself. This is because it is not entertainment, or just a cheer-me-up performance, but a therapy that is part of the child’s recovery. The clowns are a full-time part of the medical staff with responsibilities and regular hours.

“Thanks to the clowns, the children look forward to the doctors’ rounds”

The clowns are as busy as the doctors. Beside the beds of the children the clowns put on a show while the doctors examine the kids who themselves are the heroes. Thanks to the clowns, the children look forward to the doctors’ rounds. Some won’t go through a medical procedure without their clown beside them, and some insist on returning to hospital even after they have been discharged, just to visit their clown.

Scientists have conducted research on medical clowning and found that there are huge benefits. Children experience substantial pain relief and even develop a stronger immunity. Yet the effects are even more far reaching than that. Medical clowning is bridging the cross-cultural gap for the doting and worried parents of every creed and colour. Whether it be immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopian Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews, secular Jews, Druse or Arabs, it is the clowns who are bringing together the mothers and fathers to form a more compassionate mosaic of the people of Israel.

About the Author