Health Care and Higher Education

Dogs are med students’ best friends

December 25, 2013
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MSU Therapy Dog
Bernadine Jayasundra and Evan Sands meet with Watson, an airdale terrier. Courtesy MSU

What’s the best therapy for end-of-year-exams stress?

Man’s best friend, actually.

Can therapy dogs reduce the pressure felt by Michigan State University’s medical school students, offering them a better chance at relaxing and performing better on finals?

It’s an idea that Laura Bennett, assistant director of student counseling and wellness at the College of Human Medicine at MSU, has been pondering since last year, when she brought therapy dogs to med students in East Lansing and Grand Rapids during their finals week.

Each dog has undergone both obedience training and an eight-week training course qualifying them as a therapy dog, said Barb Geno, president of West Michigan Therapy Inc.

Bennett also has plans for a pilot program to bring the dogs into the Secchia Center once a month, offering a broader range of healing methods.

So far, at least with the students, the dogs have been a hit.

“I’ve gotten a lot of hugs from students who said, ‘You have no idea how much this means to me,’” she said. “They’ve been working so hard. It’s the culmination of a long semester.”

What dogs offer is an “unconditional love” and “silent support,” Bennett said. Dogs sense when someone is in need, and their empathy is what helps relax students.

“It actually helps me — and this is going to sound silly — but it helps me to be happy,” said Grand Rapids second-year student Bernadene Jayasundera. “For some reason, just having a dog is very therapeutic. It helps you to not think about anything but this animal in front of you that’s just filled with the best intentions.”

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