About this episode
Paediatric healthcare workers often experience poor mental health and burnout. While specially trained facility dogs have been found to positively impact patient well-being, little research has focused on the benefits for professionals. Clare Jensen and her colleagues from Purdue University and the University of Arizona have undertaken a study demonstrating the positive impact these dogs can have on the mental health of paediatric healthcare workers. More
Full-time therapy dogs are increasingly being incorporated into patient care, especially in children’s hospitals. Research has shown that these dogs can provide several benefits to young patients, such as reducing fear, anxiety, and perceptions of pain. Dogs who work alongside healthcare workers in hospital settings are referred to as facility dogs.
Facility dogs receive more intensive training than therapy dogs, similar to service dogs (such as guide dogs who assist with navigation). However, rather than supporting one specific individual with a disability, facility dogs support multiple individuals in a community with varying needs. In paediatric medicine, these dogs are trained to offer distraction, comfort, and motivation to children receiving medical treatment.
Whilst the main goal of a facility dog is to support patients, they also have a high level of interaction with the healthcare professionals they work alongside. Little research has focused on the impact these dogs may have on the healthcare workers themselves. Medical professionals are at risk of experiencing poor mental health and work-related burnout due to the distressing nature of their job and caring for ill children and their families.
When healthcare workers experience poor mental health and burnout, it can affect their professional functioning and put a strain on hospital resources. There is limited research to address this issue, something Clare Jensen and her colleagues from Purdue University and the University of Arizona in the USA noted. As such, these researchers wanted to better understand the impact of facility dogs on the mental health of paediatric healthcare professionals.
Previous research suggests many benefits to having support from a dog. For example, studies have found that having a dog present during a stressful task can be better at reducing anxiety compared to having a human friend present. One reason for this may be that dogs can offer unique support that comes without judgement. Research also suggests that dogs can reduce stress. One study found that emergency healthcare workers experienced less stress after spending 5 minutes with a therapy dog compared to doing a relaxing task. Finally, being in the company of a dog can increase social interaction and help to establish closer connections with others.
Despite some promising initial research, no previous studies have specifically focused on the effects of facility dogs on the mental health of paediatric healthcare workers. Jensen and her colleagues aimed to fill this knowledge gap by undertaking a study to measure the impact of facility dogs on paediatric healthcare workers’ mental health and professional well-being. The researchers predicted that workplace interactions with a facility dog would be associated with better mental health, less burnout, and better job perceptions.
The study involved 130 paediatric healthcare professionals working in children’s hospitals across the USA. Half of the participants worked with facility dogs and the other half did not. Most of the participants were white females with job roles ranging from nurses, social workers, physicians, and child-life specialists. All facility dogs in the study came from the non-profit organisation Canine Assistants. Facility dogs were mostly golden retrievers, labrador retrievers, and goldendoodles that were specifically bred and trained for their jobs. To measure the impact of partnering with a facility dog, participants completed an online survey to report on their burnout, job perceptions and mental health.
Findings suggest that working with a facility dog had many benefits for paediatric healthcare professionals. Working with a facility dog was associated with less job-related burnout and greater feelings of accomplishment in the workplace. Facility dogs also benefited job perceptions. Professionals who worked with a facility dog were more positive about their job, had greater work-related enthusiasm, and had lower levels of work-related depression. Facility dogs also helped with job retention. Professionals working with facility dogs were more likely to want to stay in their current roles than those who didn’t work with a facility dog.
Interestingly, facility dogs did not impact burnout in terms of emotional exhaustion and were not associated with reduced anxiety, as expected from previous research. Ms Jensen and her colleagues explain that this might be related to the challenges faced when working with a facility dog. These dogs are often in high demand and the professionals must juggle their workload as well as the dog’s well-being.
In conclusion, the researchers from Purdue University and the University of Arizona provide strong evidence for the benefits of incorporating facility dogs into paediatric healthcare settings, suggesting a positive impact on the mental well-being of healthcare professionals, as well as patients. They hope the outcomes of this study will help provide hospitals with a realistic view of what can be expected from incorporating facility dogs, as well as provide encouragement to explore the implementation of such programmes.
Original Article Reference
This SciPod is a summary of the paper ‘The effects of facility dogs on burnout, job-related well-being, and mental health in paediatric hospital professionals’, from the Journal of Clinical Nursing. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.15694.
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