Stress :

Dogs Help Medical Students Ease Stress

Tom Corwin

The Greenblatt Library at Georgia Health Sciences University smelled like wet dog on Monday, and everyone was smiling about it.

Rising third-year Medical College of Georgia students preparing for a crucial exam got a welcome study break when a half-dozen therapy dogs stopped by.

"How serious is the quiet rule?" Lois Fair asked as she prepared to lead her Australian shepherd, Bob, into the library. "They're not going to be noisy, but the people when they see them are noisy."

Students came flocking from around shelves of books to pet and play with the dogs.

"I haven't seen our class smile this much in over a month," said Allison Rogers, who is "such a dog person."

Most of the students are preparing this month to take Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination, which is administered after the second year to test knowledge of science in medicine.

It is one of three exams they will have to pass in order to become licensed physicians, and the score is a big factor in determining whether some residency programs will consider them when they apply, said Dr. Kathleen M. McKie, the associate dean for student affairs at MCG.

Considering how competitive some residency programs have become and that some programs will not even consider students below a certain score, the test is huge, she said.

"Bigger than it should be, but it's a reality," McKie said.

The therapy intervention was the idea of MCG student Peter Daniel, who said his mother suggested it after reading about dogs helping students at other schools.

After checking out a program online -- "It looked awesome," Daniel said -- he was able to get in touch with Jae-Mar-S Academy of Dog Obedience and Jae-Mar-S Therapy Dogs.

The local group of about 70 therapy dogs does roughly 40 visits a month to schools, hospitals, Fort Gordon, the Active Duty Rehabilitation Unit at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and other places, said Marlene Stachowiak, a trainer and founder of Jae-Mar-S.

"Almost any place we're invited," she said.

It does have an effect. Studies published this year by occupational therapists in the Army, for instance, found that the therapy dog programs were greatly appreciated by wounded soldiers in transition back to their units.

"There were significant correlations between mood, stress, resilience, fatigue and function" and contact with the dogs, one study in Afghanistan found.

MCG student Jonathan Harris apologized for having "dog hands" afterward, but was smiling about the experience, even if the smell was a little strong.

"We don't mind that at all," he said. "Any change is a good change."

(c)2012 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)

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