Peter's cover image
Peter

Peter SPITZER

Year of Award: 2002.1 Award State: New South Wales Health And Medicine > General
To study clown doctors in hospital units and their relevance in the health care system - USA, U.K., France, Switzerland, Germany
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Peter Spitzer (1946-2014) was a GP in Bowral, New South Wales and co-founder, with Jean-Paul Bell, of the Humour Foundation charity (1996) and the Australian Clown Doctor program: ‘a marriage between performing arts and medicine at the bedside of hospitalised children’. In 2002, persuaded to apply by one of his patients, Peter was awarded a Churchill Fellowship, travelling to the Europe and the United States. He researched overseas-based Clown Doctor programs and their impact on the healthcare system.

Clown Doctors visit all major paediatric hospitals in Australia plus those in East Timor and Afghanistan. There are now 96 Clown Doctors in 21 hospitals in every state in Australia. They mitigate the grim circumstances of 150,000 sick children and their families every year. They work in intensive care, oncology and emergency departments. They also lighten the workload and its emotional toll on hospital staff.

In more recent years he and Jean-Paul Bell used lessons from the Clown Doctor program to improve the quality of life of those living with dementia in residential aged care centres. ‘Why should kids have all the fun?’ This was the thought behind Peter’s development of the Laughter Boss training program to enable healthcare professionals to develop creative skills in introducing play, humour and laughter into their practice.

A three-year NHMRC-funded SMILE Study led to Elder Clown programs now operating in many aged care facilities in Australia. This study found a 20 per cent reduction in the agitation level of patients with dementia – the same result achieved by anti-psychotic medications used to treat agitation – and without the problematic side-effects.

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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