Volume 7, Number 3, 1998

Injecting a little humor into medicine

Kenneth Remy probably expects to draw a few glances as he walks down the street. At 6-feet, 9-inches tall, the University of Delaware junior stands out in a crowd.

Now, imagine the impression the future physician makes as he bounds through hospitals and nursing homes, dressed in bold wigs, bright, baggy clothing and clown makeup, coaxing smiles from patients.

Remy, 21, of East Fishkill, N.Y., is majoring in biology and liberal studies, and he already has been accepted to Thomas Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia under UD's Medical Scholars Program. He also is the founder and president of Clowns for Medicine, a new campus service group now numbering close to 60.

A big fan of the circus as a child, Remy wanted to blend his love for clowning and his plans to be a pediatrician. "A clown is like an aspirin, only a clown works twice as fast," he says.

Patients respond to humor, emotionally and physically, Remy says. "A doctor has to be able to make people comfortable. Eighty percent of all medicine is mental and 20 percent is physical," he asserts.

Remy's enthusiasm for bringing clowning to campus has been infectious. The group is getting attention around the University and around the region.

"We're in our diapers right now," he says, "but people soon will know who we are."

Remy began clowning long before he became a pre-med student. He studied music, acting, dancing and singing-and clowning. "When I was real, real young, I went to a clown training class at the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus," he says.

By the time he came to Delaware, Remy was hooked. He joined a local clown troupe, the Num Num Clowns, to continue his training. "They all had 60 years on me," Remy says.

The group later disbanded, but Remy remained busy, lifting weights, performing in University productions, taking music classes and playing the saxophone and guitar.

The lure of clowning remained strong, however, and Remy found the ideal way to blend his need to perform and his desire to heal. Remy says he could think of no better audience than hospital patients, young and old, and nursing home residents.

He pitched the idea to his fellow pre-med students and the Num Num alumni agreed to help train the aspiring Clowns for Medicine. "We set up a clown training session, teaching makeup and things," he says.

That was last December, and the group began making appearances by late February.

Membership has expanded, and now there are members who are majoring in not just biology, but also business, education and economics. And, they're all learning how to make balloon animals, juggle, handle puppets and perform magic.

"The only problem is it's hard to find the time. It takes an hour to put makeup on and half an hour to take it off," Remy says.

He's says he's particularly proud that all these busy students are finding the time to serve the local community, a responsibility he takes very seriously.

"In a lot of respects, the University is the center of this whole area. We have so many students here and I thought, 'Why don't we just do something?' Here's a chance to give something back to the larger community."

It's also an outlet for the students involved. "The best training for clowning is being yourself. It lets you be this person who can do anything," Remy says.

Clowns for Medicine is still pretty much run out of Remy's wardrobe closet, but the group has plans to publish a web site and stock up on supplies.

"We don't emphasize buying costumes. We have a clown closet with enough in it so we can go out about 10 at a time. But, it does cost $40 to $50 to set a person up," Remy says.

One of five children, Remy says his parents' overriding message to their children was living a good life, not having a good bank account.

"This is my parent's philosophy. It's not grades. It's not money. When you die, it doesn't matter how much money is around you. You should put a smile on people's faces," Remy says.

Enrolled in this competitive, demanding pre-med program, with significant demands on his time, Remy's GPA is 3.6 to 3.7.

But, Remy says he still thinks patients need to get more from a doctor than a high GPA.

"What would you rather have, a doctor who comes in for three seconds and feels your throat-someone with no personality-or a friendly person who spends time making you feel better?" he asks.

After a hard day at the hospital, some physicians would head to the golf course or the gym. Not too many years from now, after a hard day at the hospital, Remy plans to head for grease paint, funny wigs and outlandish clown clothes.

"Medicine is a stressful career. You need to have an outlet. I can't wait to have Disney characters hanging from my stethoscope," Remy says.

-Cynthia H. Collier