While Americans most frequently associate clowns in hospitals with the film Patch Adams starring comedian Robin Williams, at Israel’s Haifa University, the art and methodology of medical clowning is no laughing matter.
Beginning in 2006 the medical clowning program began being offered through Haifa University’s drama school, although the focus is just as much on psychology and healing as it is on theatrical skills. Treating the field as a serious area of study requiring training and critical thought, the school looks for students who might naturally have an affinity for medical clowning and provides them with a course of academic study focusing on drama therapy, nursing, psychology, and the performing arts. The clowns coming out of the Haifa program will not only have a solid grasp of how to draw healthy laughs from patients, but also a firm grasp of how and why such levity is important, which is much more than can be said for most comedians.
Enrollment in the program is not yet huge, but this has not stopped the program from spearheading a number of world-first initiatives. In 2012 (with an enrollment of around 30 students in the program proper), Haifa hosted the world’s first international medical clowning seminar drawing hospital hucksters from around the world. In addition the program works with another Israeli group known as the “Dream Doctors” which serves to place medical clowns in positions in Israeli hospitals. While the red-nosed researchers in the medical clowning program might like to laugh, they take their patient care more seriously than anyone else in their field.