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Giggle Doctors prescribe laughter as the best medicine

Two giggle doctors at the bedside of a patient
28 March 2023

A patient laughingSheffield Children’s is always looking for ways to make hospital a better place for children and young people – from how spaces look and feel, to dedicated performers who bring laughter to the wards.

While visiting, children, young people and families will often find dedicated Play Specialists at Sheffield Children’s to help distract, entertain and reduce anxiety. Since 2005 people throughout the hospital have also had special visits from the Giggle Doctors.

Part of Theodora Children’s Charity, Giggle Doctors are professional performers who undergo specialist training to work in a medical environment and help everyone feel better using the proven power of laughter. Complementing the work of Play Specialists, each visit from the Giggle Doctors aims to reduce stress and anxiety, increase opportunities for play, and improve children’s experience of hospitals.

Visits from the Giggle Doctors often see wacky characters like Dr Flowerpot and Dr Scribble dazzling children with their magic, music and all-round magnificence. During visits children and young people will hear songs sung with the accompaniment of a jazzy ukulele, laugh at jokes, be gifted balloon animals made on the spot or enjoy improvised comedy sketches – in this case involving Dr Scribble running around with light-up shoes flashing down the corridor! 

The Giggle Doctors have been using laughter to help children living with illnesses since 1994. At the core of Theodora Children’s Charity is the belief that play is fundamentally important to child development. In fact, Giggle Doctors use play to understand the emotional state of the child by letting the child lead the sessions and adapting to their specific needs. They can then use this information to ensure that children feel less anxious after their time together!

Kathryn Topham, Play Specialist Team Leader at Sheffield Children’s, said: “We absolutely love having the Giggle Doctors come to visit! It complements the work we do at the hospital and brings a bit of magic to the wards.

two giggle doctors and a member of staff smiling in the corridor of a ward

“We all share the aim of reducing anxiety of young people before, during or after a procedure or generally helping them while they stay with us.  The Giggle Doctors encourage laughter, joy and bring some special talents in to wow families!”

Earlier this year André Poulie, co-founder of Theodora Children’s Charity, visited Sheffield Children’s to see the Giggle Doctors in action and meet the Play Specialists.

André said: “In my 30 years of observing Giggle Doctor visits in children’s hospitals across Europe, I am thrilled to still be so welcomed, supported and listened to, just as I was in Sheffield’s Children’s Hospital. I truly admire the motivation and dedication towards the wellbeing of children by the hospital teams and members of staff I met.

“I was truly impressed by the architectural concept of your hospital. It’s wonderful access to daylight, colours and fun amenities not only bring physical comfort, but also boost the morale of everyone who visits.

“There is something special about the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. It is an honour and a pleasure for our office team and Giggle Doctors to collaborate with you all. We believe that the wellbeing of children and their families is key to the healing process. We modestly try to play our role in this noble objective, and we know that this aim is shared with your hospital too.”

a giggle doctor at the bedside of a patient

Over the years the Giggle Doctors have adapted the way they provide joy and laughter – from ward to screen. In true Giggle Doctor fashion, not even a global pandemic could stop them, as they transitioned to Virtual Visits and ‘Giggle-a-Gram’ video messages to continue with their mission.  

Molly Franklin, Giggle Doctor Programme Manager, talked to us about the challenges faced by Giggle Doctors during the pandemic. She said: “During the pandemic the Giggle Doctors were understandably unable to visit children in person, so instead we did a lot of virtual visits. We’re still offering these but we’re thrilled to be back in 12 hospitals visiting children at their bedside. We’re seeing Giggle Doctors like Dr Scribble, who is still training with us, picking it up again with ease!”

In fact, over the course of their visit, we learnt that Dr Scribble was in the process of graduating from this training programme to become a Senior Giggle Doctor. All Giggle Doctors are specially trained performers and go through a rigorous training period spanning two years to ensure that they can deliver joy to the children that they visit in an inclusive manner.

As a result, despite the challenges faced over the last few years, the Giggle Doctors continue to deliver the same joyous experiences to children across the country as they have done for the past 29 years.

André said: “I’m touched, we still see the same magic and positive energy as when we began doing this [nearly] 30 years ago. It’s something we could all use right now.”

We feel incredibly proud to be one of the many hospitals and specialist care centres visited by the Giggle Doctors and can’t wait to welcome them back again soon!

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