BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Yolana Zimmerman is not your typical doctor. Sure, she spends most of her time in Israeli hospitals, working right beside the other doctors and nurses. She works with the patients one-on one, and accompanies them to CT scans, X-rays and MRIs. But Zimmerman stands out from the other doctors—perhaps it’s because of her big red nose.
Yolana “Yoyo” Zimmerman is part of a team of medical clowns called Dream Doctors. She’s traded in a white lab coat for a pair of pink leggings, a frilly cupcake apron and a squeaky rubber chicken.
Medical clowning began in 1986 in New York City with a program called the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. Now it is found all over the world, but most notably in Israel. Dream Doctors began in 2002 and started out with only three medical clowns working at one hospital. Today, the organization facilitates the work of more than 110 clowns from across 28 hospitals all over Israel.
According to Good Magazine, the efforts of Dream Doctors is paving the way for new research and has put medical clowning at the forefront of a number of breakthrough techniques and therapeutic approaches.
Medical clowns are involved in over 40 medical procedures including accompanying patients to chemotherapy, radiation treatment, physiotherapy and rehabilitation.
They host monthly workshops where the medical staff provides them with a wide range of medical knowledge, hygiene training, vaccinations, room procedures, role-playing and case studies. Dream Doctors also works closely with Israel’s Ministry of Health and the University of Haifa—where students can actually obtain a bachelor’s degree in Medical Clowning.
In Israel, clowns aren’t just cheerful diversions, but are deeply integrated into the medical system. “Medical clowning has developed in Israel in a different way than anywhere else in the world,” says Professor Ati Citron, creator and director of University of Haifa’s Medical Clowning program, in an interview with Good Magazine. “I’ve seen firsthand how clowns work in the United States. Even after 30 years, they are still not allowed to touch a patient. The fear of malpractice lawsuits dominates the whole system. The doctors are hardly aware that the clowns are even there. In Israel, there is a deep, significant difference, and that has paved the way for avant-garde practices.”
In Israel, clowns aren’t just cheerful diversions, but are deeply integrated into the medical system
The benefits of medical clowning have been plenty. According to Good Magazine, clowning can alleviate stress and anxiety in paediatric patients, lessen the need for sedatives in patients undergoing radionuclide scanning and enhance the outcome for women undergoing in vitro fertilization. The Tene Center in Northern Israel is also the only clinic in the world that incorporates medical clowning into the treatment of sexually abused children and adolescents.
As Good Magazine puts it: “Anyone who has been hospitalized understands the loss of control experienced upon admission: Clothes become a hospital gown, trays of goop replace favourite foods, and the body is poked and prodded as if it were stripped of all humanity.”