By Sarah Wade
The Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine (or CUSOM) made history by becoming the first medical school to open in North Carolina in 40 years. Knowing the students would be extremely stressed particularly during exam time, the librarians thought about what could be done to help relieve this stress. "Animal-assisted therapy is an ever-expanding practice that traditionally involves allowing a patient to spend time with an animal, and research has shown that benefits of the practice include reduced levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure, improved fine motor skills and a greater ability to communicate with others." (Wray) One idea presented involved the use of therapy dogs.
This was inspired by events at other colleges and universities that have used therapy dogs for exam stress relief. One example is Yale Medical School, where a therapy dog has been welcomed into their medical library; his name is Finn and he has regular hours every Friday. Harvard, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Quinnipiac University, Tufts, and Drexel have also hosted or have permanent therapy dogs at their schools. They have all seen tremendous benefits with enormously positive results for their students.
During this process, contact was made with several librarians at other medical schools and also other medical facilities to find out how their programs worked and how the CUSOM medical library should handle insurance and liability issues. Many of those contacted assured the librarians that dogs and dog handlers with any reputable company would already have insurance so as not to be a source of concern for the university.
One of the national organizations that was recommended was Therapy Dogs International but there are also many other organizations. It is worth noting that not all therapy organizations work with colleges and universities. Most of them work with hospitals, nursing homes, hospice and other medical facilities and there has been tremendous proof of positive reactions from these visits.
Some of the other national organizations require that their dog teams go through training that ensure dogs won't become easily distracted. Training also addresses issues such as stress and calming signals in dogs, infection control, medical ethics, general liability, and how to handle difficult visitations. The dogs are also required to be up to date on their vaccinations. Because the teams are made up of volunteers there is little cost to hosting one of these programs. During the event one librarian at another university reported that she supplied water bowls and at the end, gave out doggy bags that had treats for the dogs along with library swag, i.e. pens, notebooks, etc.
One logistical thought when deciding whether or not to host a dog team is where to hold the event. This is important because there are going to be people that are allergic to pet dander or scared of dogs. To prevent problems with both of these issues, the event should be held out in the open away from the main traffic and visible to people that are coming and going from the facility. If your event is going to be longer than 2 hours you might want to consider multiple teams of dogs and handlers because the dogs get tired and having other teams will allow the handlers to take them outside to rest. Multiple teams will also allow for enough dogs so all the students can have access to one. This will keep your lines down and your students happy!
As for CUSOM, the administration has asked for a proposal to review and possibly consider such an event. There is hope that they will agree to it so that we will be able to implement our first event this coming fall and host these events for many years to come.
Wray, Caroline. "Med School welcomes new therapy dog." 2015. Web. <http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2014/01/24/med-school-welcomes-new-therapy-dog/>.
Sarah Wade is the Assistant Medical Librarian at the Jerry Wallace School for Osteopathic Medicine at Campbell University. She graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in History Education from Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, NC and her Masters in Library Science from North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC. She and her husband Paul live in Holly Springs with their dog, Emma and their two cats, Katie and Sue. In her spare time she enjoys reading, playing with Emma, spending time with her family (especially her nieces, Sophie and Zoey), cooking, and spending time at home with her husband.