What Is A Thought Leader?


Written by our founder: Donna Gaines

Life can be funny at times. And yet, not everyone loves clowns! I however happen to find them to be delightful. So much so, that I sent my own son to clowning school at the Art Institute of Chicago when he was little. And here we are, years later, where I’m reminded of the simple and sweet joy we both found in clowning.

Let me tell you about a person that I met a couple of months ago through some research I was doing on healthcare experts. After multiple conversations with impressive thought leaders in the healthcare industry I was able to speak with a particular individual named Ian Sinclair. Now, a thought leader is a variety of things, but in particular, it’s a person who is a reliable authority, a go to person, an opinion maker, a champion for their cause, an influencer, a change agent.

While Ian may not self-describe himself as a thought leader, his style and passion certainly prove the case. At the time I spoke with Ian, he was responsible for the operations of a major healthcare system in Canada. It was while we were discussing the trends of the healthcare industry, when he happened to mention his personal experience with clowning.

My interest was sparked, and with a little nudge, Ian shared his story: In Ian’s role as Vice President of Corporate and Strategic Planning, he had decided to expand his previous, personal, experiences with therapeutic clowning for his children’s unit at the hospital.  So he enrolled in a Therapeutic Clowning workshop led by Patch Adams while at a conference in the San Diego.  At the end of the workshop, their class along with Patch Adams, visited the San Diego Children’s Hospital, where they experienced first-hand, the power of therapeutic clowning in a hospital environment.

Ian’s participation in the clowning workshop shop was “a power experience I took back to my own hospital to see how I could gain support for a therapeutic clowning program”. From that moving and powerful experience, Ian decided to do more research about how clowning could be integrated as a legitimate adjunct to allopathic medicine, which led him to Michael Christiansen, the founder of The Big Apple Circus in New York City. Michael had created CCU (Clown Care Units) where therapeutically trained clowns are an Integral part of the multidisciplinary care team in a hospital inpatient unit. They have a role to play in diverting attention, specifically in creating breakthrough moments where traditional communication strategies have failed.

Hospitals are typically characterized by rules, rules and more rules. The clown, on the other hand is a natural rule breaker. They break traditional boundaries and norms. This is perhaps why adults get nervous around clowns. You never know what they’re going to do next!

Ian’s next step was to seek a clinical champion at his hospital to take on his passion to incorporate clowning in Canada.  However, this idea would need to be championed by a clinician. This came with a great risk to this person’s reputation.  In question: would the medical establishment embrace the nonscientific attributes of therapeutic clowning or would they laugh him out of the door?

After a carefully planned meeting to introduce the idea to the hospital, Ian’s team eventually received approval to take their chief of pediatrics and medical director of their Palliative Care Unit to visit a CCU in action in New York! A few months later, fully charged and passionate, they presented a funding proposal to the foundation board, who agreed to fund it as a pilot project at the hospital! Clowning was born at this hospital in Canada, and continues to impress!

Sometimes in the day to day rush, we don’t always feel inspired. Thinking about Ian’s work and knowing the passionate force that drives his team, reminds us all that “laughter [really] is the best medicine”!