Laughter is one of the best forms of medicine. It can draw humans closer and triggers a physical and emotional response to humor. Laughter also invokes joy, is an antidote to burnout and can help heal pain, sadness and grief.
With the goal of providing healing through laughter, Rosemarie Cannarella Lorenzetti, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for student services on West Virginia University’s Eastern Campus, and fourth-year medical student, Ayita Verna, participated in a Gesundheit Global Outreach Clown Mission trip to Quito, Equador in January.
“My time spent with patients can often be ruled by the electronic medical record,” Lorenzetti said. “The abundance of outside forces that affect my day-to-day caring for patients are endless.”
A physician for 36 years, Dr. Lorenzetti hoped to gain a renewed soul and spirit for her work while providing a teaching opportunity for a medical student to learn to communicate with people in a way that is very different than day-to-day doctoring experiences.
What better way than to use “clowning” as an opportunity to connect with residents in Quito through laughter and joy. The costumes are colorful and comical and help Mission care providers break the ice with the local people who are receiving medical care.
Care providers from all backgrounds visited various hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, psychiatry wards and addiction centers as clowns.
“I approached the first patient with a smile and was immediately greeted with a smile in return from a child and her mother,” Lorenzetti said. “Soon, I found myself singing, laughing, hugging and enjoying every moment.”
The clowning and caring project is part of the Gesundheit Institute’s Global Outreach initiative targeting frontline healthcare by using clowning as the vehicle to connect with individuals. The Institute was founded by Patch Adams, M.D., a medical doctor and clown best known for his work as a social activist who has devoted over 40 years of his life to changing America’s healthcare system. He believes that laughter, joy and creativity are an integral part of the healing process.
Although the Gesundheit Institute began preparing them for success from the start of the mission trip, both Lorenzetti and Verna were unsure of what to expect on their first day.
“I was reminded how love can bring much peace to situations,” Verna said. “I found ways to live in a single moment because the act of healing and caring is found through laughter and love.”
After mornings filled with joyful and humorous interaction, the group would gather for classes with the objective to dive deeper into the overall purpose of the trip while also sharing some of their favorite stories from the day. Interactions were not limited to just patients but included nurses, doctors, security guards and custodial staff.
Returning to West Virginia with a sense of renewal, Lorenzetti and Verna have been reminded of the importance laugher and love have in the power of healing and caring. Beyond discovering an anecdote for burnout, both have found a way to infuse joy in their job and education and embrace connections with their patients.
Reminded of why she chose the profession of medicine many years ago, Lorenzetti often shares a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. with her students, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”