Medical Clowns: Not Just a Laughing Matter
"Clowns are for kids.”
True to some, but don’t try to convince Jeffrey Raz, the Medical Clown Project’sOpens new window founder and clown extraordinaire. The seven professionals who boast the badge “Medical Clown” and frequent the halls and rooms at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in San Francisco don’t believe it either. As Jeff says, “Our big goal is to change healthcare in the Bay Area, and throughout Sutter Health. We want to impact all patients, their families, visitors and staff, giving them a joyful healing experience and nuanced humor at what is often a serious time.”
Medical clowns fit perfectly with the Institute for Health & Healing's goal of transforming healthcare, taking into account the emotional, mental and spiritual well-being of patients. This service was launched at CPMC in August 20ll. Remarkably, since then the clowns have interacted with over 5,200 people! They are making an important contribution to our in-hospital services which provide free care at the bedside more than 75,000 times per year.
While they do visit children, the clowns also spend time with short and long-term patients and those with Alzheimer’s. They use the therapeutic art of play through magic, music, and puppetry. Equally important are the moments they engage in quiet conversation with patients and family members.
Jeff Raz recalls a discontented, elderly Russian-speaking patient. Before Jeff and his fellow medical clown went into the room, they said “hello” in Russian, catching the attention of the man’s son. Beaming, he quickly turned his father’s wheelchair toward the door. Despite the patient’s glare, they began their act, knowing the Russian love of circus. After ten minutes of juggling and music, they said farewell, again, in Russian. While the son applauded, his father tilted his head and nodded. Afterward, his nurse said it was the first time the patient didn’t yell when someone entered his room.
And there is the dad of a twelve-year-old patient, who praises the clowns and breaks into a grin when they visit. He says, “It’s really pretty remarkable to see that smile on her face and watch her light up.”
The medical clowns make a wonderful contribution to healing patients and bring a sense of well-being to all they encounter. To see the clowns in action, visit http://vimeo.com/35108343Opens new window.
Photos by Mike Kepka, SF Chronicle