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Local medical student finds physician burnout can be eased with therapy dogs

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WAUSAU (WAOW) -- Medical student Brigitte Vanle shares research showing physician burnout can be reduced by introducing canine therapy in the workplace.

Vanle currently works as a therapy dog volunteer at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, and sees the impact it has on patients.

"Sometimes they will pick up a dog and say 'this is the best medicine I've had all day' because sometimes all they need is to take a step back," said Vanle.

The medical student's experiences inspired her to partner with Aspirus Wausau, extending the canine therapy sessions to hospital staff to combat physician burnout.

In the US 54% of doctors say they are burned out, 88% are moderately to severely stressed, and 59% wouldn't recommend a career in medicine to their children all according to the Mayo Clinic.

"Healthcare staff are humans as well and their needs to be more tools that enhance well being in the hospital," said Vanle.

The pilot program began at Aspirus Wausau a year ago, and Vanle conducted interviews over the course of six months with the participating 61 staff members.

She found participants after a single session with therapy dogs felt more calm, content, relaxed, and it decrease the feeling of burnout.

Vanle's research is part of the 'Physician in the Community' class at Medical College of Wisconsin.

She hopes to inspire other hospitals to consider similar programs to combat physician burnout and to bring awareness to the issue.

Chase McNamara

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