why is one pennsylvania hospital going to the dogs

It goes without saying that stress is a reality of life for the thousands of women and men who make their living in the health care sector. This is especially true for those doctors, nurses, medical assistants, technicians and other personnel who work in the emergency department, where helping critically injured or terminally ill patients and managing other major crises is all part of a day’s work.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that this stress can eventually start to take a toll on emergency department workers, as many are lacking any type of meaningful outlet for the various stressors they encounter during the workday. It goes without saying then that this situation can make these emergency department workers that much more likely to make a medical mistake that can have drastic implications for the patient.

Interestingly, officials at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania are now turning to a form of therapy traditionally reserved for patients, veterans and others to help combat this sometimes crippling stress among emergency department workers.

HUP has launched a first-of-its-kind program called “Pet a Pooch” that essentially uses animal therapy to help reduce stress by giving emergency department staff the chance to spend some time playing with animals brought in by the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“[W]hen you take that five-minute break out of your day, the pick-me-up that makes all the difference,” said an ER nurse who started the program. “That animal isn’t judging you, they don’t know that maybe you’ve had to give a family some bad news and your heart is breaking over it.”

While the idea behind Pet a Pooch is to help alleviate stress among emergency department staff, another major benefit, say organizers, is that it can help the participating dogs and cats find permanent homes.

Thus far, the program has proven so successful that the aforementioned ER nurse indicated that she is likely going to be pitching the idea to other hospitals in the near future. Here’s hoping this proves to be the case and that we see medical mistakes in the ER decline to some degree as a result.

Source: Penn Medicine, “Pet the pooch: A great way to reduce stress!” Aug. 2013

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