The clown, a pure embodiment of vitality, transports the patient from the confines of the hospital room into a world without limitations – Zachary Steel, Program Director
The Power of Medical Clowning
Utilizing the universal language of play and humor, medical clowns have helped improve health outcomes for a variety of populations around the world. As discussed in Norman Cousins “Anatomy of an Illness,” a patient’s emotional state can greatly affect the course of a disease, and laughter has been proven to improve immunological and endocrinological responses as well as increase pain tolerance. Additional physiological benefits include decreased blood pressure, boosts in immune system responses that produce increased levels of infection fighting antibodies, enhanced respiration, and reduced muscle tension. Psychologically, medical clowns have helped increase patient’s endorphin levels and significantly reduce stress, depression, and despair. Socially, medical clowning has positive effects on patient’s self-esteem by increasing positive communication between the provider and family and empowering the patient to shape the interaction based on what they feel is fun, providing children with a sense of authority in a hospital environment that, by its nature, disempowers the patient. Overall, the essence of the child, in spite of adversity, comes out to play as the focus on suffering is redirected to the patient’s capacity to connect and feel joy. The magic in the room during each patient-centered interaction with the clown is palpable and echoes throughout the hospital corridor, leaving a positive lasting effect on the patients, their family members, and the medical professionals.
USC School of Dramatic Arts Medical Clowning Program
The USC School of Dramatic Arts Medical Clowning Program blends the art of performance with the sciences of medicine and psychology to improve the physical and mental well-being of hospitalized patients as well as communities in need. As the first training and research program of its kind in the United States, its mission is to teach the joyful art of medical clowning to undergraduate students and LA-based professional performers, integrate the practice into healthcare and community settings, and through clinical research trials, validate a modality that can be utilized to improve the patient experience and bring laughter and playfulness to the healing process.Â
The program’s established partner hospitals include the LAC+USC Medical Center (LAC+USC), the county’s largest provider of healthcare, the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), and the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center (NCCC). The program has certified 25 undergraduate medical clowns and 10 professional performers who clown regularly at the program’s partner hospitals, serving over 3,000 patients annually.Â
The USC School of Dramatic Arts believes that medical clowning plays a transformative role in improving the patient experience and shaping a healthier humanity. Through training, on-site professional work, and diligent research, the program is advancing the field by employing passionate community-based artists to radically transform the wellness of all those in need.
The Medical Clowning program has been made possible through grants and donations, with lead funding from the Albert & Bessie Warner Fund, the Edit & Edward Komberg, and the Joshua & Siobhan Korman Philanthropic Fund.
Photography by Brian Sacca