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Kiwis who believe laughter is the best medicine can now gain a degree in the subject, with the country’s first medical clowning qualification to be launched this December.

Professional “care clown” Dr Thomas Petschner has brought the qualification to New Zealand through Steinbeis University in Berlin.

Those who seek to become qualified clowners can do a certificate, diploma or full bachelor of arts in medical clowning.

The university’s International Institute for Medical Clowning is the first of its kind, with 240 people enrolled to study medical clowning worldwide.

Petschner said the occupation’s popularity was “just exploding”, with 600 new enrolments for next year – 20 of whom will be New Zealand Kiwi students.

Clown Doctors New Zealand, founded by Petschner in 2009, has sent trained performers into Christchurch hospitals for more than four years.

Clown Doctors managing director Rita Noetzel said she hoped the qualification would help medical clowning become a more creditable and valued occupation in New Zealand.

“In New Zealand, medical clowning is not really recognised as a profession the way it is in Europe and other countries.”

Noetzel said it was vital medical clowns were properly trained and educated, as they were working with sick children and vulnerable families.

“You’re not just a clown going to a birthday party, you’re dealing with people who are very unwell, and you’re trying to use humour for healing.”

Students of medical clowning will study performing arts, health science, psychology and practical clowning experience.

Christchurch hospital child services manager Anne Morgan said clown doctors made a tangible difference in the ward.

“They provide a way to help relax the children. It reduces anxiety, helps treatment, and helps their recovery.

“What we need for children is different types of distraction to take away from what’s happening round them,” she said.

Morgan said the clowns had become a valuable part of the hospital’s services.

Noetzel said the clowning was not only important to ill children, but helped family and staff as well. For staff working in wards with extremely ill children, she said, the clown doctors gave permission to laugh and relax.

_Tess McClure reporting for The Press