No laughing matter

Imagine you are within the sterile walls of a hospital, awaiting a medical procedure that you are nervous about, because even the idea of a needle piercing your skin gives you nightmares. And then, out of nowhere, pops a clown, juggling balls, cracking jokes, performing slapstick comedy and even pulling a magic trick or two. Now, you are smiling, having forgotten about the upcoming procedure. Suddenly, the hospital setting does not seem so grim, and even makes the wait worth it.

This is what medical clowns do. Not just in hospitals, but in communities and mental health institutions, these trained professionals work to improve people’s mental, emotional and physical well-being.

A different calm

MeDiClown Academy, in Puducherry, does just that. Not only does it engage people in hospitals, schools and corporates with humour and entertainment, but also trains those keen on learning this art and science.

While techniques such as imagination, improvisation, play, juggling, dance, music, storytelling, puppetry, magic, humour and laughter cover the art part, the science part includes sociology and medical anthropology.

Founded in 2013, the academy is a registered activity of the Auroville Foundation, incubated as a social start-up by Fif Fernandes and Hamish Boyd.

“MeDiClowns can help humanise the hospital experience,” says Fernandes, a professional medical clown and former President of the Canadian Association of Therapeutic Clowns. Medical procedures can be scary for people of all ages. MeDiClowns help distract or re-direct a patient’s focus thus easing the physical and emotional pain.

She, along with her husband, Boyd — a professional actor and trained medical nurse — moved to Auroville in 2012. They began clowning and spreading laughter in the nearby villages and clinics. Soon, the word spread, and they were invited to participate in conferences and organise workshops. Realising the demand for medical clowning in a country that is just waking up to the benefits of such professionals, the duo set up the academy.

“According to WHO, India has the highest rate of suicide and depression. Medical clowning can support the reduction of these ‘problems’,” says Boyd. This profession also addresses the problem of an extreme shortage of mental health professionals in the country.

Medical clowns are mental health professionals, too, working with doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers to address issues ranging from sexual violence or abuse, stress, depression, to fear of medical procedures.

“When a medical clown is present, it has been proven that stress and illnesses reduce, and productivity and, in some cases, fertility, go up,” shares Fernandes. This is achieved through initiating light-hearted interactions, and more importantly, instilling hope.

While in many countries, being a medical clown is a full-time, paid career, in India the profession still has a long way to go, to achieve that status. But, Fernandes and Boyd are optimistic. With hospitals showing more importance to a patient’s positive experience, and corporates realising the need to focus on their employees’ mental well-being, one-off assignments are on the rise.

Fellowship Program In Medical Clowning

MeDiClown Academy has partnered with Saveetha Medical College and Hospital, SIMATS, Chennai, to introduce the Fellowship in the Art and Science of Medical Clowning (FASMC) course — a first in India.

Course: Will include workplace protocols, research, sustainable health, and well-being techniques, theatre and theatrical practices, core academics and fieldwork such as shadowing International Medical Clowns, amongst other training modules.

Duration: Six months/ 600 hours full-time course.

Eligibility: Candidates must have a bachelors or postgraduate degree in any discipline from a duly recognised University.

Application deadline: June 25

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 11:18:42 PM |

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