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hey act as circuit
is why the Clown
become such an
at Sydney’s Westmead Children’s
Hospital, as well as 21 other hospitals
There’s always tension when a child
goes into hospital. While parents will
attempt to maintain a brave front,
it’s usually a very thin veneer. It also
doesn’t help knowing the child may
become upset if he or she sees them
The Clown Doctors provide comic
relief in what is often a traumatic
experience for the whole family.
When a child walks or is wheeled into
hospital, it’s likely they’ll be accosted
by strangers with big red noses and
baggy pants barely suspended by ill-
Armed with hooters, lollipops and
other toys of mass distraction, the
Clown Doctors work in tandem to
entertain the children. It’s all in a day’s
work for “Doctors” S Duffer and Silly
Billy, who took time out recently to
talk to Rotary Down Under.
Predominantly actors, magicians
and circus performers, they are privy
to intimate family moments. Baggy
pants are all very well, but this is
important work. It’s not all jokes and
wisecracks – Drs S Duffer (aka Lauri
Kilfoyle) and Silly Billy (Paul Wilson)
take their jobs very seriously. These
clowns are on a mission.
“It’s not about what’s confronting
about the child, it’s about celebrating
what’s right with the child,” Lauri says.
“The Clown Doctors provide
comic relief in what is often a
traumatic experience for the
“When we’re with them, it’s about
what we have there and then. The
state of clowning for us is very much
being in the moment and celebrating
everything we can with them, no
matter what’s happening.
“We might know the history or the
prognosis, but for that moment we’re
there and there is joy to be had.”
Lauri worked with and was mentored
by “the master” and founder of the
Clown Doctors, the late Dr Peter
Spitzer, who died last year.
Inspired by Patch Adams in the
1980s, Spitzer is still affectionately
referred to by Lauri and Paul as “Dr
Cyclone”, although he was better
known around the children’s medical
circuit as the beloved Dr Fruit-Loop.
“He had a beautiful, silly, warm
sense of humour that I loved,” Lauri
says. “It was an honour to be able to
work with him.”
According to Paul, “Cyclone Peter
would come in with his bag full of
craziness and after a while you’d have
to remind him it was only supposed to
be a full-hour round, and that it had
now been six hours and the children
needed to sleep so it was time to leave.
“It was beautifully controlled
mayhem that came from the heart.
It was always good to have him at
the helm, because we knew we were
being led by one of the best.”
The work of the Clown Doctors is
the subject of a PhD study to define
the shared experience of children,
families and staff involved in the
Clown Doctor program.
Naomi Brockenshire, of the University
of Melbourne, Vic, began the study last
year at the Royal Children’s Hospital
in Melbourne in association with the
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
“I believe this research will make an
important and exciting contribution
to paediatric healthcare, in particular
the invaluable role Clown Doctors
play in the treatment of patients in a
paediatric hospital,” Naomi says.
To Paul and Lauri, however, you
don’t need a PhD to understand the
relevance of their work.
“It’s engaging with the children to
transform that hospital experience,
and we are agents for that,” Paul says.
Follow them on their rounds and
you’ll see all sorts of kooky cracks and
magic tricks lighting up the faces of
the young patients, their parents, the
nursing staff and even the real doctors.
“We encourage the doctors to come
to us if they’ve got particularly difficult
circumstances to face with young
patients,” Lauri says.
“Sometimes they come up and ask
us to be there with them. The doctors
will often get us to visit a child before
they get there so that we can build up a
rapport with the child, and sometimes
they’ll want us to be there throughout
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