ISPP 2015

Career Opportunities in Pharmacy
The health benefits of clowning around | Matthew A. Wilson


I danced with Bella for the first time as Bei Mir Bistu Shein filled the room. And her blue eyes locked with mine. We took turns singing and forgetting the words. She led, I followed. A waltz step here, a shimmy here. (Rattle sound) (Laughter) Hands on our hearts, our foreheads touching, as we communicated
through movement and music, making sense through nonsense. Bella is 83 and lives with dementia. The dance gives us a chance
to find each other. How did I learn to dance with dementia? Because I’m not a dancer. And I’m not a doctor. But I’ve played one in the hospital. (Laughs) I’m a clown doctor. Or a medical clown. My tools are whoopee cushions, shakers (Shaker rattles) and a red nose. You know the old adage
“laughter is the best medicine?” I hear that a lot. Now, at the same time,
there are studies to support it, but right now, I’d like to take you behind the nose
and go beyond the laughter and share a few things that I’ve seen
skating through ICUs. In my Heelys. Size 11. Because I take medical clowning very, very seriously. (Deflating sound) (Laughter) (Deflating sound) (Deflating sound) (Laughter) My mentor was conducting
clown rounds in the hospital when he was approached by a nurse. They needed to put a tube
up the kid’s nose. Kid didn’t want to do it, so rather than hold the kid down, they asked my colleague if he could help. So the clown asked for a second tube and shoved it up his own nose. Kid of like this. Oh, please don’t do this at home. (Laughter) Now, the kid saw this, grabbed his own tube and promptly stuck it up his own nose, kind of like this. (Applause) The clowns, the nurse and the patient discovered a creative solution
for their situation together. And guess what, there’s research
to back this up. Randomized controlled trials
in Israel and Italy show that medical clowns
can be as effective as tranquilizers with no side effects. In 2004, I started conducting
my own clown rounds at the Memorial Sloan Kettering
Cancer Center in New York City. My colleague and I were invited
to accompany a young six-year-old with the most adorable southern accent, to accompany him while he got
his chemotherapy port flushed, a very uncomfortable
and regular procedure. We joined him, his mom and the nurse in this tiny, closed curtain cubicle. Every medical clown encounter begins
by obtaining consent from the patient. So we ask him if we can be there. He says, “Sure.” We’re often the one element
that a child could control while they’re in the hospital. So we start with a card trick, fan the deck so he can pick. But as soon as the nurse
approaches with the needle to flush the port, he starts screaming and cussing like no six-year-old
I’d ever heard in my life. So we say, “Hey, should we
come back later?” He stops, mouth open, eyes wet with tears,
face flushed pink with anger, and he smiles, “Oh no, you’re fine,
I want you to be here.” OK. So we start playing a song, my colleague on recorder,
me on whoopee cushion. The nurse approaches with the needle, and it happens again,
this torrent of four-letter words. He went from playing and laughing to screaming and crying, back and forth until
the procedure was complete. For the first time, I experienced this odd duality
of joy and suffering. But not for the last time. See, when we’re there,
we’re not there merely to distract or make anyone feel better per se. The medical clowns work moment by moment to create connections between the clowns, the nurse, the parent and the child. This provides a source of power
or control for the child while supporting the staff
with their work. I’ve spent over a decade
bringing joy and delight to the bedsides of terminally ill children in the top hospitals in New York City. And you know what I’ve learned? Everyone’s hurting. Staff, family, patients. The patient’s in the hospital
because they’re hurting. The family’s hurting
as they navigate uncertainty, grief and the financial burdens of care. The staff is hurting,
only it’s more than burnout. More and more health care workers are reporting feeling overworked
and overextended. Now, I’m not so naive as to suggest that the solution is
to send in the clowns. (Laughter) But what if? What if the tools of medical clown
arts practitioners from around the world permeated our entire health care system? In 2018, at the Healthcare Clowning
International Meeting, they represented over 150 programs
in 50 different countries. University of Haifa offers a formal undergraduate
degree program in medical clowning. Argentina has passed laws
requiring the presence of medical clowns in public hospitals
at their largest province. And this work affects
more than the patients. It makes things better
for the whole health care team. One of my favorite games
to play in the hospital is elevator music. I love elevators, because they’re a place where paths cross, different worlds meet. It’s intimate, uncomfortably quiet and just begging
for a little playful disruption. The doors close and “The Girl from Ipanema”
starts playing on Hammond organ, because I keep a portable speaker
hidden in my pocket. So for those used to using
the silent, sterile elevator, it’s a moment of surprise. Folks have permission
to acknowledge or not this disruption. The game grows with every stop, because as soon as the elevator stops, the music stops. New passengers get on, and the current passengers
get to witness the new passengers — their surprise — as they hear
the elevator music for the first time. You experience the shift of adults standing silently,
strangers in an elevator, to attempting to suppress their mirth, to, “Is this a party or an elevator,” filled with full-on laughter. Research conducted in Brazil, Australia, Canada and Germany confirm that the artistic
interventions of medical clowns improve the work environment
for the staff, beyond the elevator, and support their work administering care. Promising research in the US indicates that arts programing in the hospital can improve the work environment, leading to increased job satisfaction and better quality of care. My work has taught me how to actually be present. How to breathe in a room
with a person in pain. How to connect and build trust, no matter
the age, ability or illness. And how medical clowning
is an excellent way of using the arts to put the care back in health care. Thanks. (Applause)

72 thoughts on “The health benefits of clowning around | Matthew A. Wilson

  1. You have a really cool job! I hope I can make people smile and feel better through my videos one day

  2. What a joke! This guy is such a clown!

    I can imagine a surgeon asking for a scalpel and he hands him a rubber one. The surgeon says "hey, I can't make an incision with that!" and he's like "well, well, well, and I thought every surgeon was sharp and knowledgeable of cutting edge medical science…"

  3. You had a tough crowd there….glad to hear some snickers and outright laughter here and there. What you do is surely a blessing to all who hear and see you, Matthew. Tx for sharing this online.

  4. There are so many professions representing aspects of the spectrum of the human psyche that are not recognized in modern society because they are not associated with "profit". I'm glad to see at least one of them is coming back.

  5. An uplifting insight regarding Medical Clowns I didn't know it existed. I thank you for this video, but like anyone who are helping others in need this has the same value to make them feel better.

  6. The need for more people and "soul"care in health and senior care is obvious, the world needs more clowns. Lets hope there will be more studies to find proof that the financing of jobs like this is beneficial for all parties (less pharma, more clowns and therapeutic animals where possible :))

  7. I wonder how many got your musical reference, I am having to hear it again: the Girl from Ipanema: Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz. 1964

  8. I work in a School where teenagers with high anxiety and some mental health issues are increasing. I've genuinely been wondering for a while if humour and silliness can relieve this to an extent.

  9. People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing. That's why we recommend it daily.

  10. The process and responses you describe mirror my experience spending a decade visiting thousands of patients and staff with my two cuddly, loving little therapy dogs. No cure, but for the bored, lonely, depressed and stressed these visits offer a respite, and inject humanity into what can be a sterile, alien experience.

  11. I am living the remainder of my life with adrenomyeloneuropathy (use that for your kid's next science project or fourth grade school spelling bee) it is a manifestation of adult onset leukodystrophy; and this month was also diagnosed with early onset dementia. I find much truth in the old saying, "Humor is the best medicine." It's how I survive on sleepless nights or when the pain escalates greater than a medication dosage. It also keeps me from resenting being in this wheelchair rather than running long distance as I once did. Even typing this comment is a challenge — I had to pause the presentation to permit enough time — but hey why should I deserve it easy? I also suspect humor helps my wife cope. It is relaxing and more satisfying to laugh at my situation and myself than become bitter and blame others. I won't say "get over it" (oops just did) but get beyond it with a little laughter. Now, go be a blessing.

  12. I kinda agree your idea, but you didn't address about children that fear clowns like my sister. She fear and hates them.

  13. You know, when he started talking about a "mentor" and "colleagues" I didn't believe him, I thought he was joking, but when he mentioned that international health care clowning meeting? I lost it!

    But for real though, retrospectively I think that having this moral support running around the hospital, making everyone's day just a little bit less miserable is a great idea and it should've been there since the beggining of hospitals

  14. what im hearing is that when i stuck my gf's boot on my hand and told her i was gonna kick her butt, it was good for her mental health

  15. Sir my no one koi ta banna ro
    My to kut kha lo
    Pap hat no lag maan
    Sir jeen ki pehechan ke
    No lie robin just my
    I completely forgot
    Sir my new life and my job
    Kd dugout
    Have fun

  16. My teacher in seventh grade told me that I would never be anything but a clown, and i am glade that he was right, i am now a young at heart 62 year old enjoying life to its fullest.

  17. Doing stupid stuff is a great stress reliever. My roommates and I go on loud noise contests and the wave of serenity after yelling stupid stuff and laughing is unreal.

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