Clown Doctors: Nature or Nurture?
Clown Doctors, employed professionals or volunteers, are at work in paediatric hospitals in over 750 hospital clown organisations around the world. They practice clown care: Through their comic presence they bring children relief from the anxiety, pain and boredom they experience when admitted to hospital.
Clown doctors are a special breed of character with a unique personality and name, such as Dr Cupcake in pastel icing colours, Dr DoReMi who has an unstoppable urge to sing, Dr Buttons, Dr OoPsiE, etc. Each wears a personalized and decorated white medical lab coat to make the white coats of the medical staff less scary.
The clowns often carry a variety of props but essentially, any object or toy that is found in a patient’s room can be a tool to clown with, using some imagination or magic, trying to find that “one door” they can open for a child. Finally, all wear a red nose, “the smallest mask in the world”, signalling: Here comes fun!
Dr Klown in Malta started in 2011 as a 100% volunteer association, counting today 45 volunteers, of which more than half are Klown Doctors.
Can one be educated to become a Klown Doctor?
The volunteer Klown Doctors have no professional background as clowns (neither are they medical doctors). They all pass through a whole year of training in skills like mime, puppet play, singing, music and dancing, magic, etc. Improvisation is probably the most important skill of all, as they have to adapt to a different situation in every room they visit and to the health of the child. And of course, to apply all these skills in a paediatric ward requires specific training, for which we have to call on the help of specialists from abroad.
We believe that people can develop into a clown. There’s only one major condition: The potential needs to be there! It is clear that it helps to be “a natural clown”. They learn faster, are more expressive and feel usually more at ease with changing from their normal behaviour into clown mode.
Hospital clowns are strongly oriented towards the sick child rather than towards their own performance. Success is not to play out a good act, but whether the child has enjoyed a moment of distraction, has been able to be a child again in an unpleasant environment.
Is being a hospital clown an educational experience?
To give a simple answer: Yes.
Becoming a hospital clown is a process of personal development. The experience of visiting the wards is enriching. One develops as well empathy skills as the ability to master one’s own emotions. The constant need for improvising increases one’s flexibility of thought and creativity. Seeing children experience so much pain and how most of them manage to deal with it, humbles one and makes one count his/her own blessings. This positive personal development is in fact the only reward they get for their work and dedication, besides the satisfaction of seeing smiles on the kids’ faces.
But clowns are only human. The level of suffering and pain that hospitalised children live with, silently and not so silently, defies description. The clowns are not always successful, at least not in the sense that most people would judge the work. Sometimes they are unable to help because what’s going on in the room is beyond the reach of these “magicians of the soul”. They play soft tunes and leave. But most of the time they succeed to spread smiles among the young patients and even have them experience hilarious moments, forgetting all about the sad environment they’re in, leaving them with only one request: “Will you come back tomorrow? Please??