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Making kids feel comfortable in the hospital? For Michael Pitt, MD, it’s magic

Pediatric Hospitalist Michael Pitt, MD, brings a little magic – literally! – to his work with young patients at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
M Health Fairview Pediatric Hospitalist Michael Pitt, MD.

Magic was Michael Pitt’s first love.

Pitt, a pediatric hospitalist at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, started doing magic tricks when he was 8 years old and was soon performing at birthday parties and restaurants.

Once he decided to pursue a career in pediatric medicine, Pitt found a way to combine both worlds. He began using magic to connect with kids in the hospital. Magic tricks, he learned, could be used to help build rapport with young patients. Knowing how magicians think is a “constant ace up the sleeve,” he said.

“To a child, a lot of medicine looks or seems like magic,” Pitt said. “We give them a medicine and ‘poof,’ their symptoms improve. Knowing that kids think in magic can be a powerful tool at the bedside.

“Although I might only use a magic trick with a patient one out of every 20 times I interact with that child, I think like a magician every time,” Pitt added. “The art of magic relies on misdirection. Knowing how to use body language, eye contact, and distraction can be very effective in the pediatric hospital setting.

There are many different ways that a doctor can dip into a magician’s “bag of tricks,” according to Pitt. Watch Pitt’s recent interview and magic demonstration on ZTV, the in-hospital TV network at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

Magic can be used, for example, as a fun icebreaker. “If a child is anxious, I may start by demonstrating my magical credentials before I show them my physician credentials,” Pitt said. “After I’ve made a connection, then I can introduce myself as Dr. Pitt.”

Pitt also often uses magic to encourage his young patients to follow their treatment plan. He starts by showing a child a trick, and then promises to return to teach another magic trick later in the day if the patient makes progress – such as walking the halls or taking their medicine. It’s an effective positive reinforcement tool that adds a sense of fun and wonder to each day, Pitt said.

Magic and the performance skills that come with it can also reduce anxiety or discomfort before or during medical procedures. Distraction is a powerful anesthetic. Studies have shown that the same parts of the brain that are activated by watching magic are the parts that anesthesiologists use to treat pain and cause someone to sleep.

Pitt’s magic is in high demand among patients – and other doctors. He spends time teaches medical students or resident physicians how to integrate magic into daily care at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. He also leads a popular physician workshop series, during which he shares techniques to help doctors think like magicians. 

His virtual workshops have reached more than 3,500 pediatricians and have been featured in an American Academy of Pediatrics podcast, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, and spotlighted by various news outlets. Pitt hopes that sharing these techniques will make hospital experiences easier for more children – with improved medical outcomes as a result.

And that’s the real magic.