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USU Facility Dogs Help De-stress USU Med Students

Image of A dog interacts with students. Shetland, one of USU med school’s two facility dogs, gets attention and provides some fun interactions with med school students. (Photo: Courtesy of Kameha Bell, assistant dean, Well-Being Program, USU School of Medicine Office of Student Affairs)

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Daily demands on students at the Uniformed Services University’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine can be stressful.

That’s where Shetland and Grover, USU’s designated facility dogs, come into play – literally.

The Hebert School of Medicine is the first and only medical school with a full-time complement of facility dogs.

Shetland, a yellow Lab; and Grover, a black Lab, often wander through the student lounge, library, or school courtyard seeking out hugs or getting belly rubs from students as part of their official duties to comfort, de-stress, and calm them.

While Shetland is calm and dignified, Grover is a bit more energetic and goofy. Each brings his own personality to student interactions.

Having the dogs “builds community and adds a little levity,” said Kameha Bell, assistant dean of the Office of Student Affairs’ Well-Being Program.

Bell leads the facility dog program at the medical school and is Shetland’s guardian.

“The ultimate goal is to support the well-being of our community,” she said.

Dogs on a Mission

Shetland and Grover’s mission is to promote wellness on campus as well as the benefits and responsible use of animal-assisted interventions in health care, referred to broadly as pet therapy.

Bell and highly trained student handlers spend part of their time with the dogs at events, such as university blood drives, where they explain the differences between service dogs, facility dogs, and companion animals.

Facility dogs like Shetland and Grover are service dogs trained to perform a variety of physical tasks, such as providing emotional and physical support for veterans with disabilities, low-vision, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

As facility dogs, they also provide comfort and affection in a variety of settings to help improve physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning.

Before he was selected to be USU’s first facility dog in 2019, Shetland trained for four months with an accredited service-training organization. He then completed several more weeks of training to ensure he was acclimated to his new home.

Grover underwent the same training regimens and was recently inducted into service.

Stressors

Extra stress can come at exam time or in preparation for the medical school’s Bushmaster simulated deployment practicum at the end of the four-year program.

It’s then that Shetland and Grover get reinforcement from the Red Cross Therapy Dogs, said Navy Ensign Kimberly Dodd, a med student and one of USU’s facility dog student handlers.

“If someone feels like they might not do as well on that exam, we have the dogs there for social support,” said Dodd.

Having all the facility dogs from USU and Walter Reed together “really brings up the mood on exam days when students need that extra support,” she added.

Other military hospitals and clinics have facility dogs to support patients and staff. These include:

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland

Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas

Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

• Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia

Shetland & Grover’s Impact

Shetland and Grover are ambassadors of the benefits facility animals can bring.

Their impact at USU is primarily “joy,” said Marine Col. (Dr.) Catherine Kimball-Eayrs, commandant of the medical school.

It’s also “the peace and calm that the dogs can bring” to stressed-out medical students.

“The students start to relax and have fun with the dogs,” she said. “To watch the joy of that interaction, and how it brings some peace and calm to folks’ lives in a time where none of the schools -- medical school, nursing school, any other -- is easy, is very rewarding.”

A second major impact, said Kimball-Eayrs, is that students learn the role of animal-assisted interventions.

“Our students are exposed to facility dogs and understand their role in a community,” she said. “This helps them prepare for when they come across facility dogs at other military hospitals, clinics, and programs.”

And “when [USU students] are future health care providers, they can help spread the knowledge and support and, in the right situation, maybe get a dog placed with a service member who could really benefit from it,” she said.

Shetland & Grover - USU Facility Dogs

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