Every two weeks, a premier medical institute in Chandigarh puts on a big red nose. Literally and figuratively.
Doctors in the outpatient department don bright, polka-dotted clothes, paint their cheeks and noses and don hand puppets before setting off on their rounds, all to try and put their young patients at their ease.
“Children would normally walk in terrified, some of them already crying. They would look at the white coats and stethoscopes with fear and wail at just the sight of a syringe,” says Dr Bhavneet Bharti, 45, an associate professor at the Advanced Pediatrics Centre of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER) and the brain behind the initiative.
“But when we doctors are in the clown costumes, they look at us differently, are happy to chat about their symptoms and are even calmer during actual treatment.”
It all began in 2010, when an Australian doctor from The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne visited the Chandigarh paediatric centre for a research project and began discussing how doctors in her hospital often dressed up as clowns to make it easier to reach out to children.
“It struck me as the perfect thing for us to try, a perfect way to break the stereotype of the stern, scary person with the syringe,” says Bharti.
For the children, the doctor-in-clown-costume becomes more of a friend than an enemy. In fact, the response has been so positive, that the doctors have begun dressing as clowns twice a month, rather than at random intervals or special occasions such as Children’s Day or during Diwali.
The hospital is now working on a tie-up with local NGO called Nanhi Jaan (Hindi for Little Lives), which works for the welfare of critically ill children, to rope in volunteers who will help raise the frequency of these dress-up-as-clowns days to twice a week, and also help the hospital expand the initiative to include resident patients.
“The clown get-ups have proved to be a great way of keeping the ailing children cheerful. And for doctors, their happiness makes everything easy — from diagnosis to treatment,” says Dr Pratibha Singh, a pediatric neurologist and professor at PGIMER.
Adds Vivek Kapoor, president of the Pediatrics Medical Support Society, an NGO that works with underprivileged children: “The idea has proved quite helpful. Children who were once terrified of doctors now treat the ‘clown doctors’ as their friends.”