Not just for patients: Animal therapy benefits ER docs, nurses

Although hospitals have long used therapy dogs to help patients, the animals can also help relieve the stress of emergency room doctors and nurses who must handle life-and-death situations every day.

Instead of spending their lunch hour eating sandwiches, ER physicians and nurses at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania now spend "puppy" time with animals from Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ABC News reports.

The hospital launched the "Pet a Pooch" program this summer when Heather Matthew, M.S.N. a clinical nurse specialist in the emergency department, realized the only time she could unwind after a long day was when she returned home to her bulldog Annabelle.

"Healthcare is an incredibly stressful field from the medical intensive care to the emergency to the newborn nursery. It's stressful," Matthew told ABC News.

So she worked with the hospital's therapy dog program for patients to bring the animals directly to staff.

"I've had people say to me, 'I walked in here with the worst headache and I instantly feel better.' And then they go out and they then go on to provide even better care for their patients," Matthew said.

In addition to giving clinicians a much-needed break from the daily work stresses, the program also aims to find forever homes for the puppies and kittens up for adoption.

The program is the first in the country to use animals to relieve employee stress, according to PennMedicine. But it's been such a success at the hospital that Matthew said she plans to promote the program to other hospitals across the country.

 "Basically, when you take that five-minute break out of your day, the pick-me-up that makes all the difference," Matthew said in the PennMedicine article. "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."

To learn more:
- watch the ABC News coverage
- here's the PennMedicine article