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The Hospital Clown

book review – The Hospital Clown – A Closer Look
What Hospitals Need to Know About Clowns, What Clowns Need to Know About Hospitals
by Patty Wooten and Shobhana “Shobi” Schwebke

The Hospital Clown a Closer Look: What Hospitals Need to Know About Clowns, What Clowns Need to Know About Hospitals

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Perhaps you’ve heard about hospital clowns — these are the clowns who go into hospitals to spread cheer. But how do they start? What training do they need? Do they need certifications, or medical training? This book answers these and many more questions.

This book is actually two books in one; What Hospitals Need to Know About Clowns, by Shobhana Schwebke, and What Clowns Need to Know About Hospitals, by Patty Wooten. These same clowns produce the excellent Hospital Clown Newsletter, and like that newsletter this book contains anecdotes about hospital clowning that will both make you laugh and cry. Both are professional clowns, with Patty Wooten also being a professional nurse, and writing her half of the book from that perspective. (Patty is also the author of other books on the subject of healing humor, including  Compassionate Laughter – Jest for your Health)

It’s an excellent book, which I recommend highly, for those who are thinking about entering this area of clowning. I rate it 4 clowns out of 5.

table of contents:
What Hospitals Need to Know About Clowns

Who are the hospital clowns?

This serves as an introduction to hospital clowning, and offers short biographies of clown individuals and groups, including The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Units ®, Karen Ridd and the Robo Project, Richard Snowberg “Snowflake” and Clown Camp, and Patch Adams and The Gesundheit Institute.

How are Hospital Clowns different from circus or party clowns?

A discussion of hosptial clowns, and how they are different from other performing clowns

What do Hospital Clowns wear?

A discussion of costume considerations, and how make-up will need to be “softened” to be as non-threatening to the “audience” as possible.

What is a clown character?

A discussion of clown character, how character is developed, etc.

How do clowns develop clown characters?

A practical discussion, following on the theoretical of the previous.

How will I know if a clown’s character is appropriate for my hospital?

Why is it important for a hospital clown to have a strong clown character?

A very important discussion — the short answer is, because so much of the hospital clown’s humor flows not from his or her props, but from his character.

Why does a clown have to be spontaneous?

A very good section — the short answer is, because nothing is scripted; the clown has to be able to respond to whatever happens, good or bad. This is part of why character is such an important part of hospital clowning.

Does the clown come to the hospital just to play?

What special personal qualities does a clown need to be a hospital clown?

  • Cultivating Gentleness
  • Personal Courage
  • Open Heart Listening
  • Selfless Service

Can I, has a hospital caregiver, become a clown?

Yes, of course! You have quite a few advantages in caring clowning — but you will still need to develop a character, make up skills, etc. — which this book doesn’t address.

What if I am a professional clown and also a nurse?

Then you’re set! (Read the book anyway — there are experiences related here that you can use to your advantage. As Ben Franklin says, you must learn from the mistakes of others, since you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself)

Are hospital clowns affiliated, credentialed or certified?

In short, no; there is no national or international certification programs, though there are schools, etc. available — see the next chapter.

Where do Clowns get their training?

A listing of clown schools, camps, organizations, as well as other Humor (non-clown) organizations.

Where can I find a clown for my hospital?

When I am interviewing a clown what questions can I ask?

A very good section — making sure, for the hospital, that they are getting someone who actually is an experienced clown, who will be a benefit to the patients and staff.

What are the signs of an inexperienced hospital clown?

A very good section — read it, and remember your early days as a clown.

Do clowns make mistakes?

Do clowns breathe? Then yes, they make mistakes. The question is, how do they deal with it — which this section deals with.

How does the clown’s play differ from that a a child life worker?

Are there established professional hospital clown programs?

How does a Clown fit into the hospital?

If I don’t like what the clown does, who can I tell about it? Who is the clown accountable to?

How do I keep track of what the clowns do?

How do we evaluate your program?

Do I have to pay the clown?

Yes. Unless this person is a retired individual who is volunteering his or her time, in which case they will probably “drop out” after a while, the clown is a professional who is expecting to be paid. Bear in mind that the clown has numerous costs associated, in excess of his time, such as the costs of his or her equipment, make up, travel expenses, etc. After all, the worker is worthy of his hire, isn’t he?

Preparation Time

  • Cost of Equipment
  • Commitment
  • Continuity of Clown Care
  • Other Compensations
  • Fund Raising

How much do we pay the clowns?

What can clowns do that other hospital personnel can not do?

Will the clown respect my patients vulnerable state and not preach to my patient?

This is a very important chapter for both clowns and hospital folks to read. You cannot expect to go into most hospitals and be allowed to preach to the patients. If you want to preach to patients, then you will need to be a licensed minister and work through that area of the hospital instead.

Drawing out the Spirit

How can I be reassured that a clown will be sensitive to my patients’ needs?

How can hospital staff be reassured that the clown won’t harm my patient?

What can hospital staff do to help the clown?

Can a clown suffer from burn-out too?

Finding a Place to Be Alone

Do clowns need emotional support and where do they get it?

Where else in the hospital can a clown be of help?

Playing with Staff

Why do clowns want to work in a hospital?

How can a clown witness all the suffering in the hospital and still be funny?

How can a clown play in the midst of a world of hurt?

How can a clown play with a dying child?

What Clowns Need to Know About Hospitals

Why are hospitals reluctant to accept clowns?

  • Core Values for Team Building: Trust, Respect, Knowledge, Rapport
  • Build Trust
  • The Good Ol’ Days
  • Trust Your Intuition
  • Earn Respect
  • Acquire Knowledge

How do I find out about hospital rules and procedures?

When is it appropriate for a clown to be in a hospital and for how long?

What things should I NOT bring into the hospital?

What areas the the most important for me to go?

What department should I not forget?

Who are all those serious people and how do I know who is in charge?

What is appropriate play with staff?

What do all those signs mean?

When should I be concerned about privacy and confidentiality?

What do I need to know about the patient and her illness?

How do I respect the patient’s vulnerability?

  • Compassionate Presence, Reflective Listening, Patient Control
  • Physical Vulnerability
  • Emotional Vulnerability
  • Spiritual Vulnerability

What kinds of illness am I likely to see in the hospital?

  • Medical patients
  • Surgical Patients
  • Maternal Child patients
  • Orthopedic patients
  • Rehabilitation patients
  • Behavioral health

How do I know where I can go to help, which departments need me?

  • What are the sensitive areas in the hospital?
  • Critically ill patients
  • Emotionally volatile patients
  • Perioperative patients

When are clowns in the way?

Where in the hospital should I not go (even accidentally)?

When I walk into a room what should I notice?

How do I respond if a patient asks me for a glass of water?

What can I do to help in a crisis?

Should I offer patients advice on anything?

Why do clowns need to be concerned with infection control?

A very good discussion of infection control for the layman. It’s important so we don’t spread infection to the other patients, ourselves, or our families.

What do I need to know about germs if I’m a hospital clown?

A good discussion in laymen’s terms about the practical side of germs, disinfecting, etc.

Should I use a different puppet in the public areas than I use in the patient’s room?

This is an excellent discussion, and a good example of what a layman wouldn’t think about. For example, I wouldn’t have thought of having two puppets, one for use with the patients and another for use in the “public areas” of the hospital.

What if somebody in the lobby sneezes on my puppet or prop?

What if a patient want to hold my public area puppet or play with a prop?

What if a patient hugs my puppet? What should I do about germs?

Can my puppet stroke somebody’s hand?

Is it okay for me to hold somebody’s hand?

What about infection control with face painting?

How do germs die?

How can I protect myself and others from germs?

When is it necessary to wash my hands?

How can I wash my hands effectively?

How do germs move around the hospital?

How do hospitals control the spread of germs?

What is the risk for hospital clowns? Can they catch something awful?

How do I know if my props, puppet or costume needs cleaning?

How clean do things need to be?

How can I remove germs from my props, puppets and person?

How do I choose a cleaning technique?

What are practical methods can I use at home to remove germs from my props, puppets and costume?

What is the difference between Protocol, Policy and Procedure?

Summary – What Clowns Need to Know about Hospitals

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