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P18 - Who Let the Comfort Dogs Out? A Virtual Approach to Providing Stress-Relief to Nurses

Recently, front-line nurses in the medical-surgical specialty have self-reported increased levels of workplace-related stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While volunteer therapy dogs were often used to provide self-care and stress relief to nurses, access had been restricted due to mandated visitor restrictions. Traditionally, studies have shown a decrease in stress, depression, and chronic pain in the patient population in coordination of therapy dog programs. Animal-facilitated therapy programs research has shown an improvement in workplace satisfaction of medical-surgical nurses (Ginex et al., 2018). The intervention of interaction with animals shows purpose to improve physical, mental, emotional, and cognitive abilities in subjects (Hall, 2018). A program partnering with a national organization providing comfort dog services was brought to the organization virtually to reach nursing associates during their shifts. Following the implementation, nurses reported a 37% reduction of workplace-related stress immediately following the virtual comfort dog visits.
The clinical educator for medical-surgical nurses developed the plan to partner with the comfort dog organization to implement virtual sessions for all shifts caring for patients on COVID units. The implementation included coordinating technology to offer the sessions during nurses’ shifts and creating an environment to promote stress relief during busy shifts.
Virtual comfort dog sessions included time for nurses to gather and reflect on their workplace-related stress levels prior to and after the virtual session. They were asked to rank their workplace-related stress from mild to severe. Virtual comfort dog sessions lasted from 10 to 45 minutes, with staff rotating through for the opportunity. While unable to touch the dogs, nurses were able to verbally interact with the dogs and handlers during the virtual visit to both reflect on and discuss coping mechanisms. Telemedicine has become a more widely accepted form of communication in health care as a result of the restrictions placed on face-to-face communications during the
COVID-19 pandemic. A virtual approach to stress relief using comfort dogs can be utilized in other organizations to promote workplace-related stress relief and a healthy work environment. A further recommendation includes implementation of virtual pet therapy sessions to include patients that were excluded due to isolation barriers.


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