Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 26th 2016 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, March 26, 2016
Patients who delay getting treatment and insurers
who balk at paying for it are among job stresses
that Chicago nurse Ben Gerling faces on a semi-
regular basis. So there was no tail-dragging when
his employer offered a few four-legged workplace
Gerling and dozens of other nurses, doctors, stu-
dents and staffers flocked to a spacious entrance hall
at Rush University Medical Center after learning
about special animal therapy sessions the hospital
Three huggable pups named Rocco, Minnie and
Dallis greeted almost 100 white-coat and scrubs-
clad visitors at a recent session, happily accepting
cuddles, ear rubs and treats. Big grins on the human
faces suggested the feelings were mutual.
Minnie, a fluffy white and gray Labradoodle mix,
had "the softest fur I d ever felt, like a little cloud,"
Gerling said dreamily as he headed back to work.
Many hospitals use animal therapy for patients---
Rush has even brought in miniature horses. And
many workplaces allow pets on site to boost employee
satisfaction, but heelers for healers offers a different
The medical centre has held the monthly Pet Pause
sessions for more than a year, using dogs from a local
shelter and an animal therapy group. Recently, Rush
nurses launched a study to see if the programme has
tangible effects on employee stress.
Research in other settings has shown benefits from
interacting with animals, including lowering stress
hormone levels, blood pressure and heart rate. Early
indications are that it may have similar benefits for
In the study, the human visitors get blood pressure
measurements and fill out questionnaires rating their
stress levels before and after the canine cuddle ses-
Gerling s results were promising.
"My blood pressure was kind of high when I came
in, and it was lower when I left by about ten points,
so that was good," he said.
Melissa Browning, a Rush nursing director involved
in the study, rattles off a long list when asked about
what makes hospital work particularly stressful: con-
stant beeping from medical device alarms, dealing
with gravely ill patients and worried families, triple
checking the accuracy of patients medicines and
doses---it can all add up, Browning said.
For Benjamin Gonzales, a graduate student in health
systems management at Rush, the heavy course
workload can be taxing and he called the dog session
a welcome break---even if his blood pressure was a
little higher afterward.
"I could feel the big sighs coming out of me when
I was with the dogs, so I know that just coming to
this has made my day less stressful," Gonzales said.
"This is amazing. I wish it could be every day."
A management professor emeritus at Virginia
Commonwealth University is among researchers who
have found improvements in employee stress, sat-
isfaction and productivity when dogs are allowed in
His name is Randolph Barker and he laughs that
maybe he was destined to study the topic.
His research was at a dinnerware company but
Barker said there s no reason to think hospital workers
wouldn t gain similar benefits.
Dogs can potentially serve as a "low-cost wellness
intervention," Barker said.
The "pet a pooch" programme for staffers at Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania s hospital inspired the Chicago
programme. Emergency room nurse Heather Matthew
started the Penn programme three years ago, bringing in dogs
from local animal shelters. Besides boosting morale, Matthew said
there s an added bonus---Penn hospital workers have adopted more
than a dozen shelter dogs involved in the programme. (AP)
Four-legged healers soothe
stressed-out docs, nurses
Medical assistant Eloise Olmos pets Dallis the Westie at Rush
University Medical Center in Chicago. The medical centre has
offered monthly sessions animal therapy for more than a year as
an employee health and satisfaction programme, using dogs from
a local shelter and an animal therapy group. AP PHOTO
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