Bleary-eyed but momentarily relieved, first-year osteopathic medical student Emily Eddy emerged from her exam reflecting on all of the work she had done to ensure she got the best score possible, and all the work she had left to do.
It was only Tuesday, and despite the fact that she’d yet to even eat lunch, the final week of medical school had already challenged Eddy with two exams. A quiz awaited her in just a few hours, and yet another exam was on tomorrow’s schedule. She had a hard time focusing on anything beyond that. As she made her way into the foyer of Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences Butler-Haney Hall, her mind juggling medical terminologies and vital anatomical information, something in the distance managed to capture her acutely-focused attention.
Seemingly determined to provide comfort to anyone who passed, Mika locked her soulful brown-eyes on Emily. Coated in a thick black fur accented with pure white and a rich, rusty hue, Mika had come from generations of hard workers. Today, the Burnese Mountain Dog was prepared to put forth any effort necessary to accomplish what she’d been brought to do. That task wasn’t to patrol the farmlands of the Swiss Alps as her ancestors had. Instead, she was here to simply make people feel better. Thankfully for students like Eddy, Mika’s adorable appearance and welcoming demeanor made her a perfect fit for the job.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” said Emily, approaching a woman holding Mika’s leash, “but may I please pet her?”
Initiated by Michelle Chadek, PNWU’s Graduate Medical Education (GME) Regional Liaison, the dogs were brought to campus during finals week as a way to cheer up students working hard to finish their busy year of medical school.
“The work our students are doing during this final week can be very stressful,” explained Chadek. “I’ve always found stress to be a major factor in derailing healthy communication. The presence of dogs seems to help reconnect people.”
Sitting on the floor beside Chadek, first-year student Ciara Gorman had made a connection of her own with a hulking Mastiff-mix named Sheena. Gorman had countless pieces of medical knowledge committed to memory for the tests that awaited her throughout the rest of her week, but for now, her focus was solely on the black snout of the gentle giant before her.
“Your paws are as big as my hands,” she exclaimed, laughing as she sat beside Sheena.
“Moments like this remind us that there are other people here,” said Gorman, still smiling from the interaction a few minutes later. “Moments where we have a second to enjoy what's going on? You have no idea the effect it has on our mental health, especially during a week like this.”
Eddy reflected that sentiment, a smile on her face as she prepared to head off to her next exam.
“It’s a step back to remember why we’re here, take a deep breath and realize that, although our exams are important, it’s equally important to enjoy being here, take a break and, when we get a chance, pet some puppies. Having the dogs here is a very welcomed break.”