Using Animals to Improve Nursing Wards

June 10, 2020 by  

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taro shiba, being pet by his human mom


There’s no doubt that nursing is a challenging, yet rewarding career path. Recently, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service had become increasingly concerned with the amount of violence against nurses and other staff members in mental hospitals. To compensate, they took a page from airport security programs and have hired a dog that is able to detect the presence of knives and illegal drugs. In the past, hospital staff members searched for these items on their own, but it was very time consuming. When a dog did the job, it was completed in a matter of minutes, and didn’t require nurses to remove themselves from other tasks.


The National Health Service dog is a springer spaniel named Paddy, and his handler says that beyond helping his human companions search for forbidden items, he also cheers the patients. Even though Paddy is the first animal to be used in this capacity, the UK’s Mirror newspaper notes that he’s been able to reduce the amount of illegal drugs by two thirds, and that violence towards staff members is at its lowest level in half a decade.

This program is similar to programs around the world that use dogs for therapeutic purposes in hospitals or nursing homes. For example, the Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical center regularly uses animals to visit patients who are staying in the hospital overnight, those who are undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, or might be attending psychotherapy appointment on an outpatient level. The university even has a Center for Human-Animal Interaction. Besides improving the general outlook of a patient, the center aims to conduct research that explores the benefits of inviting well behaved animals into a hospital setting.

Improving Staff Morale

Animals in hospitals can have a beneficial effect on staff members, too. It’s long been understood that most pets are happiest when they have human companionship. Unfortunately though, this reality makes it difficult for staff members such as nurses to have pets of their own. Dogs need regular walks to stay healthy, but that’s hard if an owner is working 12 hour shifts on a regular basis. Even cats, which are normally more self-sufficient than dogs, get lonely without interaction from humans, and might lapse into destructive habits if left unattended for too long.

A healthcare worker who is a self-described “animal person” might be a bit more upbeat simply by having occasional interactions with animals who visit patients on a particular ward. Since these therapy pets are almost always accompanied by handlers, there’s no need to worry that they could end up being a distraction, and ultimately cause productivity to drop. On the contrary, you may find that workers become even more efficient, because they’re in a happier mood and are serving patients who have a more positive attitude, as well.

Starting a Program of Your Own offers a simple four-step program to help hospital workers introduce a pet therapy initiative in their workplace. If you’re interested in giving it a try, simply visit the website and review the information. It’s even possible to get help from an expert coordinator via phone. It’ll take some work and research, but you might be embarking on a journey that improves the well-being of hospital employees and patient’s alike.

Sarah Ross writes articles for education sites. Several schools offer nursing degree online programs.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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