Hospitals can be pretty terrifying places even without grotesquely painted jesters shuffling through their wards in oversized shoes, but that hasn't stopped Israeli hospitals from relying on medical clowns to help put tremulous patients more at ease because apparently not enough Israelis know who Pennywise is.
According to the AP, about 25 hospitals in Israel keep bona fide medical clowns — all of whom, much unlike your average tent clown or street mime, have been trained to work in hospitals — on staff, and one Israeli university even offers what might be the first full-time degree program for medical clowning because any tomfoolery in a hospital has to be strictly regulated. Though many Israeli health care workers are beginning to see the benefits of having clowns on hand to entertain and calm nervous patients, Dr. Ernest R. Katz, director of behavioral sciences at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, doesn't think hospitals in the U.S. would pay for special clown training, mostly because Americans have mixed feelings about, i.e. are terrified of, clowns, and pretty much the last thing bedridden Americans want to see while they're lying helpless in an ICU is a clown walking slowly towards them with a fistful of balloons and a garish, blood-red smile.
Coulrophobia, however, isn't such a big deal in Israel, and, as a result, clowns in Israeli hospitals are harbingers of joy and laughter rather than paralyzing terror. Israel's medical clowning guild, Dream Doctors, was founded ten years ago, and hopes to integrate more professionally-trained clowns into medicine. Advocates for such clowns says that the medical community should recognize them as paramedical practitioners, and that clowns can play just as important a role in a patient's recovery as doctors and nurses.
The last few decades have seen a rise in hospital clown guilds in the U.S., Canada and Europe, all of them drawing on a model created by New York's Big Apple Circus, as well as Robin Williams' 1998 performance as real-life clown-doctor Patch Adams. The new breed of medical clowns doesn't feature heavy makeup or comically oversized clothes — clowns in the hospital just pantomime the doctor and maybe play the kazoo, which might be pretty annoying for all those Philip Seymour Hoffman doctors who graduate medical school with a sense of self-importance only to see their training and erudition parodied by a person wearing a fake nose.
Usually, clowns stick to the pediatric wards where their shtick will be most appreciated, but an Israeli study published last year in the journal Fertility and Sterility found, interestingly, that a woman's chances of getting pregnant after in-vitro fertilization rose from 20.2 percent to 36.4 if a clown was paraded into the room immediately after the obstetrician implanted a fertilized egg. Maybe a clown is the last thing most Americans want to see while they're trying to get pregnant, but it's pretty hard to argue with science, and in this case science thinks clowns are becoming the modern world's fertility shamans.