Florence Vanek, MSN, RN, believes that though nurses work in a stressful environment, they don’t need to live in an environment of stress and anxiety.
Aiming to relieve some of the work stress nurses experience, Vanek, a professional practice implementation consultant at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, and colleague Amanda Emge, BSN, RN, assistant nurse manager on the hospital’s mother-baby unit, helped engineer the institution’s first Paws for Pennsy event this spring. Nurses and other hospital staff were invited to cuddle, pet, and enjoy the antics of dogs and cats and get much-needed tension relief.
Paws for Pennsy
This first-time event, which featured five pets from a nearby animal shelter, was sponsored by the hospital’s Care for the Care Provider group in which Vanek and Emge are involved.
“We had overwhelming response,” Emge said. “About 200 staff turned up during the three-hour event, and we heard a lot of conversations from staff all over the hospital. People haven’t stopped talking about it.”
Paws for Pennsy is an offshoot of the Pet a Pooch program previously offered at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Vanek said surveys to check on the levels of stress, anxiety and happiness revealed that individuals experienced significant stress relief after their animal petting experience. Paws for Pennsy events are now scheduled quarterly.
Laughter as best medicine
Another route to reducing ED stress is laughter. Terry Foster, MSN, RN, CCRN, CEN, CPEN, FAEN, advocates using humor to take the edge off of perpetual pressure resulting from emergency nursing. Foster works as a clinical nurse specialist in the ED at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Edgewood, Ky.
“Nurses laugh together, and we cry alone,” Foster said. “We laugh together because we get together for social time, and we say, ‘Let’s not talk about work,’ but five minutes later we’re talking about work and the funny stuff that happens.”
Foster shares his philosophy of humor as a coping mechanism through workshops and lectures, affirming the power of humor for stress relief.
“It’s all about the job,” he said. “We laugh at the things that normal people wouldn’t find funny.”
Often, he said, patients say or do things that become sources of nurse humor. For example, patients try to pronounce an unfamiliar medical term which ends up being funny to professionals.
Foster is careful to use healthcare humor appropriately.
“We poke fun or laugh at a situation, but it’s not personal. We want to be very aware of that and not offend anyone,” he said. Foster said nurses should be careful about not sharing a humorous moment within hearing distance of a patient or family member.
He also suggested avoiding references to race, religion and lifestyle preferences.
Coping with stress
At Pennsylvania Hospital, Vanek said coping with nursing work stress is a necessity.
“Nurses need an outlet during their work day,” Vanek said.
She, Emge and hundreds of other staff at the facility are eager for the next Paws for Pennsy opportunity. The event also has aided in initiating conversation about the need for stress relief at work, Vanek said.
“It’s gotten the hospital staff talking about the need to take care of oneself,” Vanek said.
Danielle Heffner, MHA, BBA, director of program development and service line integration for Penn Medicine Heart and Vascular Services, is looking forward to another animal therapy stress-relieving day.
“[Paws for Pennsy] was a feel-good event for everyone involved,” she said. “Employees were beyond excited to deviate from their normal break routine and snuggle with the animals. It was re-energizing to take a few minutes to socialize with colleagues and play with the animals.”
Heffner added pet interaction revived her for the rest of her shift. “The staff will never forget the day when we all returned from our breaks smiling from ear to ear,” she said.
Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer.