Delivering Joy When It Is Needed Most: How Disney Institute Training Is Enhancing the Patient Experience in Children’s Hospitals

As the sun was going down on Disney offices in California and Florida, the day was just beginning at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) in Singapore. Instead of putting on scrubs and starting their morning duties, many staff members were sitting down in front of their computers to attend what they thought would be just another training class. Through the magic of Zoom, the KKH staff members were connected with seasoned trainers from Disney Institute, the division that helps external professionals learn the Disney approach to customer experience. As they waited for the training to begin, they were welcomed by some of their favorite Disney characters, imagery, and sounds from Disney’s parks and resorts as some of their eyes filled with excitement and joy.

KKH is one of the largest women’s and children’s hospitals in South East Asia. So, why did they choose to engage over 6,000 leaders and staff members in a Disney training? Or, perhaps the better question is: What does a visit to a children’s hospital have in common with visiting a Disney park?

When thinking about a visit to our beloved parks, most of us probably will picture joy, laughter, and magical moments. When thinking of visiting a healthcare facility, most of us might feel anxiety or even fear. But just like Disney parks, children’s hospitals are places where human interactions and emotional connections make a significant impact. And in both places, it is the staff members who make the difference.

This common thread–moments of connection–is why The Walt Disney Company has committed $100 million to help improve patients’ and families’ experiences in children’s hospitals globally. A key part of this commitment is custom-designed courses provided by Disney Institute.

The training is centered on three key service principles that often guide the many interactions in our Disney parks and resorts: serve with heart, reach higher, and own it. These ideas are shared with the hospital staff to help them create exceptional service experiences, strengthen connections, and elevate beyond their daily tasks to deliver on a higher purpose. Just like Disney cast members, each hospital staff member plays a critical role in creating an environment where ordinary interactions become moments of comfort and inspiration for patients, their families, and fellow staff members.

“Disney’s commitment to the health and happiness of children and families can be traced back to our founder, Walt Disney, who frequently visited children in hospitals and guided company giving toward supporting children in need,” said Timo Gorner, vice president, Disney Institute and National Geographic Live. “I am so proud that Disney Institute is able to share our business insights to help enhance the already high level of care, compassion, and service being provided to young patients around the world.”

Disney Institute reminds the hospital leaders and staff, and all of us, that care and human interaction make the difference. It can bring smiles to those around us, whether they are in the parks or in a healthcare setting. Professor Alex Sia, Chief Executive Officer of KKH, was grateful for the inspiration, saying, “KKH is privileged to be a recipient of Disney Institute’s best in class training. We are humbled by this generous gift and the collaborative effort. Thank you for showing us how to create inspiring moments of comfort and compassion for our patients and families, as well as expand compassion for ourselves and our fellow colleagues.”

To date, the Disney Institute team has provided live instructor-led training to over 11,000 hospital leaders and staff globally. It has also made training available to nearly 4,000 people at nonprofit organizations such as Make-A-Wish® Foundation, the Association of Child Life Professionals, and Starlight Children’s Foundation™. The leaders and staff who received the training have been raving about the impact, with over 97% surveyed saying it was relevant to their work and 95% saying they found the content useful. A critical factor behind this success is the Disney Institute trainers who bring the content to life in a very fun and engaging way, while connecting it back to their world in healthcare. The trainers were often cited as the best part of the training. The training participants at KKH couldn’t agree more. “It helped to remind me that medicine is not only the treatment, but also the journey that one experiences,” said Dr. Suzanna Sulaiman, Head and Senior Consultant from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

At a recent Disney Institute training at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City, a participant shared that there was a young patient who was very anxious and nobody could get him to make eye contact or speak with any of the staff—not even his mom. When he saw one of the staff member’s Disney-themed badge–another small yet magic tool provided by Disney to help staff better engage with patients–he excitedly pointed out “Woody!” and it broke the ice. He was more talkative after that, and this made it easier to form a connection with the patient. How did we make the magic happen? It goes back to the Disney Institute belief that everybody should serve with heart and look to connect with others on a deeper level.