VCOM Research Day Program Book 2023

Medical Student Research Educational

06 Use of a Therapy Dog in a Classroom Setting to Reduce Academic-Related Stress and Anxiety

Jacob Barnett 1 ; Brooklynn Runyan 2 ; Samantha Thurman 2 ; Schenatsar Dorvilier 3 ; Meghan Wilson 1,3 Corresponding author:

1 Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine- Virginia Campus 2 Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine- Louisiana Campus 3 Bluefield University Interactions with a certified therapy dog team (i.e., dog and handler) can positively influence academic achievement, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote a sense of belonging in educational settings. Primary schools that have utilized the presence of a therapy dog for reading programs have found that students experienced greater perceived well-being and heightened sense for reading achievement. In higher education, animal interactions on exam days have shown reductions in test-related anxiety. These positive associations with therapy dog interactions persist at all levels of academia but the type, duration, and frequency of interactions with therapy dogs are variable and often times, inconsistent. The Masters of Arts in Biomedical Science (MABS) program offered through Bluefield University, in partnership with VCOM, is an intensive 1-year program that guarantees a student a seat at VCOM in the following year if they meet the benchmark GPA, MCAT score, and receive a positive faculty review. As a result, many students experience consistent stress, anxiety, and depression centered on the successful completion of this program to achieve their ultimate goal; acceptance to medical school. The purpose

of this study was to determine if the presence of a therapy dog in the classroom setting, on most days of the week, would impact the levels of stress, anxiety and depression felt by the students in the MABS program. This study was reviewed and approved by the Bluefield Institutional Review Board (BU IRB #69). A pre-survey was distributed to all students at the start of the 2022 school year to assess daily baseline depression, anxiety, and stress using the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS21). At the conclusion of the first semester, students received a mid-program survey which included the DASS 21 and questions inquiring about their interactions with the therapy dog, Sunny. Of the 94 MABS students, 61 responded to the pre-program survey and 50 responded to the mid-program survey. On a scale of 0 to 3 (0= did not apply to me at all; 3 = applied to me very much), data from the DASS21 increased in all categories; depression, anxiety, and stress, by 1.38, 0.24, and 2.78, respectively. Regarding the interactions with Sunny, 39 students reported interacting with Sunny and 9 reported not interacting with her. Stress levels following the interactions with Sunny were reported as low for 80% of students

(n= 33), unchanged for 17% (n= 7) and moderately increased for 3% (n=1). As for the learning environment, 80% (n=36) of students reported that Sunny improved the learning environment and 20% (n=9) reported that there was no change. Students reported that, “…"her [Sunny] presence helped lighten the mood of the classroom (especially on days after exams)" and “although I myself don't interact with Sunny, I do believe she had a big influence on my peers and helped relieve their stress.” Although overall and daily depression, stress, and anxiety levels increased as the semester progressed, interactions with Sunny were able to reduce stress at the time of interaction and the her presence in the classroom was favored by most students. To date, this study is the first to assess the implementation of a therapy dog within the classroom setting of a higher education, intensive 1-year program.

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