The Hobart

LOCAL PERSON: Dr Sherbet (Aka Claire Dawson)

by Stephanie Williams
LOCAL PERSON: Dr Sherbet (Aka Claire Dawson)

For sick kids in hospital, putting smiles on their faces can be as valuable as medicine. For Dr Sherbet – aka Claire Dawson – it’s her vocation. We spoke with the Hobart Clown Doctor about her role in helping kids at the Royal get on the road to recovery.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I was a fledgling in the UK; starting out in Liverpool, then explored the Big City Lights in London, before heading over to Tasmania, where I have lived for the last 27 years. I now reside in the cosy town of Lower Snug.

Tell us a little about your work. My work for me is a vocation, a passion, and a joy. As a Clown Doctor at the Royal Hobart Hospital, I get to spread a little bit of light and fun in a world that is challenging, unpredictable and sometimes a little scary. I get to work with wonderful colleagues who share the same values and goals as I. As Dr Sherbet, I visit children, their families, patients, and staff, connecting at times that might be frightening and unfamiliar.

How did you become a Clown Doctor? I watched the Clown Doctors of Hobart carefully from a distance and when the time was ready…I struck! My background is in performance and music, yoga teaching and counselling. When the rumour started that a new Clown Doctor position was available in Hobart, I was excited to be able to audition. The process is extensive of course, it is not easy to get into Clown Medical School!

Hobart’s Clown Doctors, front to back: Dr Sherbet – Claire Dawson, Dr B Positive – Les Winspear, Dr Dolittle – Peter Dowling, Dr Rocket – Andrew Brassington

What is Clown Medical School like? Obviously, you begin Clown Doctor life as a Clowntern, with two mentors to guide and support your journey. This is an amazing opportunity to understand the work and develop the skills necessary to be a great Clown Doctor. After 50 rounds, three assessments, consistent reporting and feedback, if you are lucky, you will receive a nose bopping and certification.

Why are Clown Doctors and the work of the Humour Foundation important? Our mission is to enhance wellbeing, lift spirits and improve health through connection, creative play and joyful humour. We are here to transform the hospital experience for everyone; children, families and staff. Feedback from the families and staff shows us that this is working! At The Humour Foundation we believe in the power of humour to heal. We provide this service free to hospitals all over Australia.   

How many Clown Doctors work at the RHH and what does a shift look like? We have one Clownsultant, three Clown Doctors and a Clowntern at present. Clown Doctors always work in pairs. We arrive for a shift, get changed into our special costume (which of course includes a Doctor’s coat), placing in our coat’s many pockets all the fun goodies we will share with the patients. I like to carry a ukelele, a xylophone and a shaker as well as a puppet or two, flexitubes, textas, and a hippo. We always check in with each other before and after every session on the hospital floor. During our shift we will visit the childrens’ clinics and Paediatric wards. We will also connect with smiles, songs or jokes to those we pass in the corridors on our way. We often get “booked” by staff for procedures where we can help offer fun, engaging and suitable distractions. At the end of the day, another check in and it’s time to do our reports on the day’s adventures.   

What do you love doing outside of work? I love practicing and sharing the magic of yoga. And I adore walking the local beaches with my small fluffy mighty doggo, Mooji Mojo.   

Who do you admire? I admire the countless young patients I meet at work. I am inspired by the joy, courage, strength, fun, and curiosity that I see in them, despite the scary nature of the unknown future.   

Favourite podcast or tv show? Hamish and Andy make me laugh out loud, I’m a fan. I have just watched all seasons of The Good Doctor. What’s not to love?…it’s all in the title!

Secret vice? Lollies on the couch as I binge watch Netflix. Oh, and scoring a free trial on Duolingo and trying to reach number 1 in the league.

What are you reading now? I’m still on Book 2 of the Wheel of Time. I’ve been on the opening chapter for a couple of months now…I keep getting distracted by Duolingo.

What gets your goat? I still get a little stuck wanting everything in life to be fair.

What was your first job? Goodness… what will my mother say? So, there was a paper round when I was 14, but my first ‘real’ job was dancing as a “go go dancer” in a cage in the South Liverpool Football Club in Liverpool. It was the late 80s… cages abounded.

What are your daily news/social media habits? I love a little check in with friends and family around the world. My son is a dare-devil parkour artist and stunt man in training in the UK; so, I always make my first social media stop at Instagram and check that he is still all in one piece.

Your favourite place (in Hobart) for…

Breakfast: Yummy Ginger Brown in South Hobart

Lunch: Saigon Express Lounge affordable and so delicious: North Hobart

Dinner: The Beach Cafe in Blackmans Bay…location, location, location.

A Clown Doctor in action

Favourite team? You can take the girl from Liverpool, but you can’t ever take her footie team away from her. Liverpool FC all the way.

Favourite Hobart secret? The secret waterfall in Myrtle Gully on kunanyi. Ssh.

How can readers support your work and the foundation? Yes, it is a free service, offered because of the support from so many generous people out there. To help us continue this amazing service for children, families and staff at our Hobart Hospital, you can donate, fundraise or even become a corporate partner. Check out www.humourfoundation.org.au for more information.

Parting words? Here’s a moment, let’s find the joy.

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July 2024

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