Involving medical clowns in medical treatment significantly improves patients’ experience, according to a study conducted at Shaare Zedek Medical Center. The study found that Shaare Zedek’s “Dream Doctors” helped children with cerebral palsy who were undergoing recurrent botulinum toxin injections. The researchers discovered that the involvement of the medical clowns reduced the pain the young patients felt, not only during the initial injection but also during subsequent injections, even if the clowns were not present for the later treatment.

The Shaare Zedek study was supported by the Magi Foundation.

Participating in the study “was a very special and enlightening experience,” shared “Dr. Sababa” (aka Avraham Cohen). “The challenge was to create tools that can be used when a child is undergoing a specific treatment and to ensure that those tools can be used by clowns in any country and under an array of situations. The study showed what we really already knew — a medical clown that is skilled and professional really makes a difference in the patient’s experience.”

The Dream Doctors Project integrates therapeutic medical clowns into Shaare Zedek and more than 20 other Israeli hospitals. It trains them to work as part of various medical units carrying out procedures to improve patient well-being and advance care. Each Dream Doctor has a rich background in the dramatic arts in addition to the hospital training. Like Shaare Zedek’s other professionals and paraprofessionals, members of our Dream Doctors team work according to a set schedule determined according to the Hospital’s needs.

“Our work focuses on developing trust with the young patients. They call the shots. We follow their lead and together we can conquer anything,” explained “Jacko” (aka Jacob) after the Shaare Zedek Dream Doctors completed a daylong training session with their mentor, Ami Hatav. “In our work, we constantly encounter very complex situations. It is not only our job to entertain the child; we need to figure out what the child is thinking and adjust ourselves accordingly. Once we start to interact with the child he starts to feel comfortable [and] we can develop a very special relationship that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

“The clown comes ‘through the cracks.’ She enters the situation and listens,” said “Liffa Jiffa” (aka Limor Yitchayik), a performer in Israeli theatre before her role as a Dream Doctor. “We’re not trying to make someone laugh, we want to be with them, to stand by people who are scared and in pain. We give a hand and help patients believe in themselves. Here in Israel, we are very advanced in this field. We take negative energy of patients and turn it into a strength, into faith. It’s amazing.”

She shared a story: “Some time ago I was walking down the halls of Shaare Zedek Medical Center and suddenly I saw a young girl standing on the side. I sensed her. I came close to her and opened my arms. I did everything based on my intuition. The girl came over and started crying. Slowly she revealed that she came to the hospital for a treatment and she is very sad. She thought that if she walks behind a clown, the happiness may be contagious…My vision of life and death has changed. I understand that you have to live in the moment, what we have now. I don’t interact with people out of pity, I work from the heart.”

So, send in the clowns. Because when a child faces an uncomfortable or painful procedure, a smiling face or a silly joke is just what the doctor ordered.