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Vancouver Hospital Introduces Pet Therapy to Help Stressed-Out Nurses

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Nurses all over the world are no strangers to stress, anxiety, and depression. And playing with animals has been shown to reduce all three. That’s why the BC Children’s Hospital in British Columbia decided to implement an onsite pet therapy program for its staff. Nurses get to interact with some adorable dogs in between shifts or on their way to work. It’s just the pick-me-up some providers need to get through the day.

Clinical nurse Kelsey McCormick says she loves getting attention from the pups even if she only gets to spend a few minutes with them a day or week. She loves the “positive energy” in the air when a group of nurses gather around in scrubs to play with the dogs.

“All of our days tend to be so chaotic and busy and stressful, and when we sort of just step away from the bedside and these dogs are there it just brings the level of anxiety down so much,” she said.

The hospital launched the program in partnership with PetSmart Charities of Canada to help providers cope with the added stress and anxiety they have been facing amid the ongoing staff shortage.

For the staff, playing with the dogs is like having recess.

“It’s a micro-break from the chaos and just this sense of peacefulness tends to come over everyone. It’s a bit of a reset and then you can get back on with your day,” McCormick said.

University of BC nursing professor Farinaz Havaei recently conducted a survey to see how the pandemic has been affecting the mental health of the nurses at BC Children’s Hospital. The results showed a link between poor mental health in healthcare workers and poor quality of care in hospitals, long-term care homes, and health centers. The survey found that when nurses reported high emotional exhaustion, their ratings of quality and safety of patient care delivery dropped eightfold.

There is no shortage of surveys demonstrating how exhausted and stressed out nurses are these days. Nurses in the U.S. and Canada are feeling the pinch emotionally and physically.

“Staffing shortages have really taken a toll. So we’re kind of doing more with less and the pressure is just really high because we nurses tend to be a little perfectionist and we want to provide the best care,” said McCormick. “We take care of sick kids but with fewer bed nurses. So that’s just day-to-day, and there are 12-hour shifts. Long days, a lot of nurses are picking up overtime. So that’s been really stressful.”

The hospital already has a pet therapy program in place for patients and families, but the new therapy program is just for the staff. The organizers noted that the dogs are not trained to interact with patients.

Nurses get a chance to sit with the pet and a therapist in a quiet room, helping them relieve tension amid a long shift.

“I think having a psychologist there and the dogs just helps them feel like it’s more of a safe space to like open up to what they might need to talk about,” said McCormick. “They can step aside if they want to and speak privately with the psychologist or sometimes, we talk about themes like caregiver burnout. But just having the dogs’ presence, that just brings the stressful energy down.”

Malcolm Berry, president of the Children’s Hospital Foundation, said it’s so rewarding to see the staff interacting with the dogs with smiles on their faces.

“The past 2 1/2 years have provided challenges for everyone, and the staff at BC Children’s Hospital are no exception. As the pandemic landscape continues to evolve, our health-care workers have pivoted and adapted accordingly to ensure that B.C.’s sickest and most seriously injured children continue to receive excellent care,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

PetSmart Charities of Canada sponsored the program by donating $700,000 to support animal-assisted therapy programs, according to the foundation.

“PetSmart Charities of Canada understands the healing power of animals, especially their ability to reduce depression, anxiety and work-related mental health issues,” said Kate Atema, director of community grants at the national charity.

What better way to celebrate National Dog Day than a pitstop at the pet therapy center?

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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