Clown “Doctors” in New York City

The article I read was about Dr. Winona Do-More from New York City. She is not a true medical doctor but in charge of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. This group is made up of circus-trained clowns who help to “treat” and cheer up children in various New York hospitals. They dress up in a white doctors lab coat, bright red clown noses, and different medical tubing that many of the kids have to deal with. The article says, “Satisfied that all is ready, she leaves the changing room for another day of funny-bone removals, queakectomies, and bed-pandemonium” the clowns start to entertain the children in the pediatric units (Blerkom). Some of the people that they entertain besides the patients are families waiting to hear the results of their children’s emergency room visit. They are very useful in distracting patients who are able to undergo a painful procedure or situation. These clowns also benefit the hospital workers by increase mood and morale.

The clowns role in medicine is being compared to the shamans we have learned about in non-traditional medicine. The article states, “In many ways, CCU clowns resemble shamans and traditional healers of non-Western societies. The inclusion of clowns in pediatric hospitals reflects growing interest in and respect for alternative, or more correctly complementary styles of healing” (Blerkom). These clowns are concerned with the patients’ well being, mood, and an increased enjoyable experience of treatment. This focus is shifting away from western medicines belief in treating the physical symptoms of a patient’s illness. The best quote comparing these clowns to shamans is when they say, “Both clowns and shamans mediate between order and chaos, sacred and profane, real and supernatural, culture and anti-culture, or nature”(Charles 1945:32-33; Willeford1 969:100-150).

Physicians that do more than just treat symptoms are following more of an integrational model. In order to treat the well being of their patients, doctors need to consider psychological and social health. These clowns are a great example of doctors reaching beyond these comfort zone and applying techniques used by other cultures of improve the health of patients. The direct exposure patients receive from the clowns in New York City is very beneficial because they can help children in difficult times. I thought this article was great and reminded me of the movie Patch Adams with Robin Williams.


Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western MedicineAuthor(s): Linda Miller Van BlerkomReviewed work(s):Source: Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 462-475Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological AssociationStable URL: .

2 thoughts on “Clown “Doctors” in New York City

  1. I would say clown doctors differ quite a bit from biomedical doctors in the U.S.. The doctors tend to focus on the body treating the symptoms, prescribing medicine, and doing various medical procedures. Clowns on the other hand are focused on the mind. Stress can have a pretty negative effect on the immune system, and taking kids minds off of all the stressful situations they experience in a hospital is at least something that can make them feel a little better. As far as healing goes I do not know how much they can actually do, what I’m saying is I don’t know to what extent a good mood or some laughs can actually help you when fighting a disease or what not. So if I had to choose between one and the other I would definitely go for the regular doctor over the clown. But maybe a different culture would go for the clown because apparently they were comparing them to shaman in the article so who knows. If credibility is referring to whether or not they help how they are supposed to then I think they are credible. They do seem to make most kids happy so they are helping. I think they have a similar amount of effectiveness as the therapy dogs they have in some hospitals. It’s the same kind of idea.

  2. I found you post about clown doctors very interesting. Patch Adams also came to mind when I started reading your post and it’s a great example of a clown spiritually healing. I heard about clowns who go from hospital to hospital cheering up people who need it. I never thought of them as doctors but more like spiritual healers. Clowns and doctors both do help the patients heal but in different ways. Doctors actually administer medicine or do surgery to help the patient. A clown doctor to me heals to the soul or helps the patient for a while for not think of the pain they are going through. I do think clown doctors are effective in spiritual healing of a patient or the family members. I remember one time I was watching TLC and it was an episode about a children’s hospital in Chicago. They showed the different children with different illness and their family members. Then they showed the clowns coming into the hospital and making the children laugh, smile, and also their family. One of the child’s mother said the clowns don’t take their illness away but put a smile on their faces and souls. So even though clowns are not biomedical doctors they still heal their patients in some kind of way.

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