Could Therapy Dogs Make Your ER Better?


If there is one thing you know for certain about emergency medicine jobs, it is the fact that emergency medicine can be incredibly stressful on the best of days. Doctors, nurses, and support staff often deal with tragic situations that impact lives forever. Finding ways to relieve stress is therefore imperative for the hard-working people in the emergency department.

As an emergency medicine doctor yourself, what is the environment in your ER like? A highly stressful environment is cause for concern. But there are ways to alleviate that stress. For example, regular visits by therapy dogs could do wonders for you, your fellow clinicians, and even your patients and their families.

For OhioHealth, a faith-based, not-for-profit hospital system based in Columbus, using therapy dogs to reduce the stress in ERs is commonplace. Volunteers with qualifying dogs sign up to make regular visits to local hospitals where their dogs instantly become ‘man’s best friend’ for an hour or two. They also visit other areas of the hospital as well.

Volunteers and program organizers are thrilled with what the ‘Love on a Leash’ program has accomplished since it was first implemented. Workers and patients are loving it to.

  • Instant Stress Relief

Dr. Erika Kube is one of the Ohio ER doctors who has personally benefited from therapy dog visits. In a recent article published by the Columbus Dispatch, she relayed her first experience with a therapy dog at work. She spoke about how the stress she was experiencing that day vanished almost immediately upon greeting the friendly yellow lab. Dr. Kube noticed how the dog had a calming effect on the entire department.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Kube finds that being with her own dog at home helps to relieve stress as well. In the Dispatch story, she related how she looks forward to going home to her family and their beloved dog, both of which help her to decompress after a very stressful day. Knowing that her own dog is somewhat therapeutic makes it easier to see how therapy dogs would be beneficial in the ER.

  • Stress Relief for Patients

This title of this post asks whether a therapy dog could make your ER better or not. It is pretty clear that therapy dogs are good for staff members dealing with stressful situations, but what about patients? Well, therapy dogs can be just as beneficial to them.

Imagine the locum tenens physician filling in at the local ED on a busy Friday night. That doctor has his or her hands full just trying to keep up in a less-than-familiar environment. Other locum doctors and the nursing staff are extremely occupied with room-to-room care; they don’t have a lot left over to offer to comfort patients and family members.

A therapy dog brought in that night can do something the doctors and nurses cannot. That animal can bring peace and comfort without ever uttering a word. A dog can help relax your patients at a time when stress might be making their conditions worse. A dog can ease the fears of frightened children who don’t know what’s happening with mom or dad. The possibilities are virtually endless.

It’s not clear how many other health systems across the country utilize therapy dogs in the ER environment. But if you work in a hospital with a very stressful ER and very few ways to alleviate that stress, you might want to look into the possibility of adding a therapy dog volunteer program. It could be the best thing that happened to your ER in a long time.


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