You are here: Home / Journal Articles / Developing an animal-assisted support program for healthcare employees / About

Developing an animal-assisted support program for healthcare employees

By B. Etingen, R. N. Martinez, B. M. Smith, T. P. Hogan, L. Miller, K. L. Saban, D. Irvin, B. Jankowski, F. M. Weaver

View Resource (HTM)

Licensed under

Category Journal Articles


Employee burnout and its associated consequences is a significant problem in the healthcare workforce. Workplace animal therapy programs offer a potential strategy for improving employee well-being; however, research on animal therapy programs for healthcare workers is lacking. This study aimed to evaluate the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary impact of an animal-assisted support program to improve healthcare employee well-being.


In this mixed-methods pilot intervention study, we implemented an animal-assisted support program in a multidisciplinary healthcare clinic at a large VA hospital. The program included 20 sessions over 3 months, each approximately 1-h long. Real-time mood data were collected from participants immediately before and after each session. Participation rates were tracked in real time and self-reported at follow-up. Data on burnout and employee perceptions of the program were collected upon completion via a survey and semi-structured interviews. Differences in mood and burnout pre/post program participation were assessed with t-tests.


Participation was high; about 51% of clinic employees (n = 39) participated in any given session, averaging participation in 9/20 sessions. Mood (on a scale of 1 = worst to 5 = best mood) significantly improved from immediately before employees interacted with therapy dogs (M = 2.9) to immediately after (M = 4.5) (p = 0.000). Employees reported significantly lower levels of patient-related burnout (e.g., how much exhaustion at work relates to interaction with patients) after (M = 18.0 vs. before, M = 40.0) participating (p = 0.002). Qualitative findings suggested that employees were highly satisfied with the program, noticed an improved clinic atmosphere, and experienced a reduction in stress and boost in mood.


Establishing an animal-assisted support program for employees in a busy healthcare clinic is feasible and acceptable. Our pilot data suggest that animal-assisted programs could be a means to boost mood and decrease facets of burnout among healthcare employees.

Date 2020
Publication Title BMC Health Serv Res
Volume 20
Issue 1
Pages 714
ISBN/ISSN 1472-6963
DOI 10.1186/s12913-020-05586-8
Language English
Author Address Center of Innovation for Complex Chronic Healthcare (CINCCH), Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, 5000 South 5th Avenue (151H), Hines, IL, 60141, USA. of Innovation for Complex Chronic Healthcare (CINCCH), Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, 5000 South 5th Avenue (151H), Hines, IL, 60141, USA.Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA.Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research (CHOIR), Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, Bedford, MA, USA.Department of Population and Data Sciences, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA.Women's Mental Health, Mental Health Service Line, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, Hines, IL, USA.Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, IL, USA.PAWSitive Therapy Troupe, Chicago, IL, USA.Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, IL, USA.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agencies and organizations
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animals
  4. Dogs
  5. Employees
  6. Feasibility
  7. Females
  8. Health care
  9. Health personnel
  10. Humans
  11. Males
  12. Middle Aged Adults
  13. open access
  14. Pilot Projects
  15. Program Development
  16. Program Evaluations
  17. Qualitative Research
  18. surveys
  1. open access