Clowning around for kids

David Symons (bottom left), Shoshi Ofir (top, third from left) and the RCH’s Victorian Paediatric Medical Service director Dr Anne Smith (top, second from right) together with the RCH trainee clown doctors of the Humour Foundation and Dream Doctors pilot program.

FOR children who have been victims of physical assault, a subsequent assessment at hospital can feel traumatic and scary. 

But Australian organisation the Humour Foundation has recently collaborated with Israel’s Dream Doctors, and together they are piloting a program to assist the young patients with clown doctors.

The medical clowns are highly trained professional performers who spread doses of fun and laughter, working to uplift kids in hospital care. 

“We are responding to whatever is going on in the [assessment] room at the time,” explained the Humour Foundation’s artistic director, David Symons. 

“It can be gentle music or foolishness. It is bringing in this beautiful imaginative world to feed the spirit of the child in a moment of real challenge.”

The Humour Foundation began in 1996 with Jewish doctor Peter Spitzer. In 2011, Spitzer and Symons attended the International Conference on Medicine and Medical Clowning in Jerusalem. There they met Shoshi Ofir and Dr Nessia Lang of the Tene Centre at Padeh Medical Centre in northern Israel, who presented on a clown–doctor co-work model they developed for child victims of sexual abuse to be employed during hospital visits and physical examinations. 

Impressed by their findings, the relationship was born between the Aussies and Israelis. 

“What Israel does very well is do research and set up research programs and make strong links with the medical profession,” said Symons.

The Humour Foundation and Dream Doctors eventually partnered, and in 2018 Ofir visited the Royal Children’s Hospital to train six Melbourne doctors and work on the pilot program which formally began in May this year. 

“I was happy to be invited to Australia by the Humour Foundation to teach the clowns in Melbourne how to work with children suffering from abuse and/or neglect, and the doctors how to work with the clowns,” Ofir shared with The AJN from Israel, adding, “Hospital clowning is quite a new profession and we clowns ought to learn from each other in order to promote this very special profession.”

Symons shares Ofir’s enthusiasm – and he has big hopes that the pilot program will expand to other hospitals.

“It is a fabulous relationship, very collaborative. Shoshi’s training was invaluable and very inspiring for all performers.”