Clowns in the midst: understanding clown doctors at The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne
AuthorBrockenshire, Naomi Anne
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2021-08-05. This item is currently available to University of Melbourne staff and students only, login required.
© 2018 Dr. Naomi Anne Brockenshire
Clown doctors are a feature in paediatric hospitals, visiting children and families, providing a welcome escape from the reality of hospitalisation. Though the use of humour to improve health and wellbeing has been widely researched, limited exploration of the clown doctors has occurred. This study aims to elucidate the work of clown doctors within a major paediatric hospital. This was an ethnographic study. Ethnography is an innovative approach to paediatric research, giving an intricate view that is otherwise difficult to attain. Participants for this study included the clown doctors employed at The Royal Children’s Hospital, and every person they had a meaningful encounter with during the course of their work, including patients, families, clinical and non-clinical staff. Data was collected via participant observation, with approximately 1,500 hours of ‘clown ward rounds’ documented over one year. Furthermore, 25 hour-long semi-structured interviews were conducted with a range of key informants. A constructivist framework was used to analyse emergent concepts. Constructivism explores how relationships and interactions create the individual’s understanding of the world. Furthermore, how different understanding, or meaning, can be derived from interactions based on individual context, background, culture and personal history. When asking people about the clown doctors, most ascribed a function, such as: distraction, anxiety reduction and procedural assistance; entertainment and making people laugh; emotional support and providing comfort; and communication, including translating clinical information to families. These functional elements of the clown doctors are the result of a more complex, intimate human connection that develops due to the nature of clown doctors being low-status, open, vulnerable and, in particular, existing as outsiders to the medical establishment. Clown doctors use humour to break down the emotional barriers created by illness, which they achieve through being person-centric and offsetting medically driven interactions the hospital often demands. They empower patients, returning a sense of control that is generally absent for hospitalised children. While almost universally acknowledged as a positive addition to the hospital, most people who encounter the clown doctors have little conception about the scope of their work. Although clown doctors are often described in concrete clinical terms, their real power lies in their ability to connect with people, and the psychosocial advantages that connection provides. The results of this descriptive study deliver valuable insight and a comprehensive understanding of clown doctors and the complexity of human relationships within a major paediatric hospital. Through this research we can identify what the clown doctors bring to the hospital environment, how paediatric staff can employ their unique skills more effectively, and finally give long-overdue credence to the notion that laughter, mirth, creativity and child-like wonder has as much place in a hospital as medicine.
Keywordsclown doctors; hospital clowning; paediatrics; patient experience; ethnography; humour; laughter; wellbeing; role theory; constructivism; person-centred healthcare
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