Clown Doctors in NYC

In the article “Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine”, author Linda Miller Van Blerkom analyzes the similarities between shamans and clown doctors and why they are becoming more prevalent in our society. The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit is a group of professional clowns, or healers, who go to New York City hospitals and entertain patients, patient’s families, and even the staff. The clowns do their healing with props, silly jokes, and magic tricks. As far as social status, they don’t get paid like medical doctors, so I’m assuming they’re closer to the middle-class side of the spectrum.

These clowns work in different hospitals across New York. However, clown doctors aren’t just limited to New York; they are scattered all across the nation, working in hospitals to help ease the psyches of frightened patients and worried families. These clown doctors operate in the typical Western culture, where medical practices and medicine are the predominant methods used to heal. The clowns typically target the pediatric wings of hospitals. In our culture, clowns are usually associated with entertainment. They are characterized by their big red noses, crazy array of props, and attire that would otherwise be socially unacceptable. When people in our culture think of clowns, they don’t associate clowns with psychological healing.

Despite being able to bend the rules a little, they still have some procedures to follow. For instance, they have to check on whether patients are off limits or not, and they’re not allowed to visit rooms when doctors are in there. In places like the intensive burn unit, they have to put on fresh caps, fresh gowns, and they’re not allowed to touch any of the patients. They use silly gags and perform tricks. They’ll ask kids where they hurt and pull scarves and do other magic tricks. In two instances, the clown doctors were able to bring 2 patients out of comas.

These clowns serve as Western shamans. The use of these clowns in our hospitals shows our society’s growing acceptance of methods other than medicine. Like shamans, they wear different clothing than what’s culturally accepted, they use puppets like spirit helpers, and they use sleight of hand to create illusions. Also, clowns and shamans are said to pay more individual attention to patients than doctors are able to provide, which is why it’s beneficial to have them in hospitals.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Steven Sochacki says:

    I think that there is a pretty obvious distinction between clown doctors and doctors that are normally seen at a hospital. Unlike biomedical doctors in the United States, the clown doctors do not use medicine or physical therapy. I also agree with the assumption that the clown doctors do not make as much as the average doctor. As you mention in the post, the clown doctors have limitations on what they can or cannot do (not being able to visit certain patients, having to wear certain garments when visiting areas like the intensive burn unit, etc.), and I think this clearly shows the difference between them and a regular doctor.

    As far as the clown doctors being credible, I think they are from what is described in your post. If they can help patients get out of comas and help ease the psychological pain of patients, then I think they are both credible and effective. I also noticed how you compared the clown doctors to shamans (and also how the article did the same). I wrote about shamans in my reflection post, and I agree that both the shamans and the clown doctors can really help individuals in certain ways that medical doctors usually cannot.

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