SRU Research Focus: Alexandra Kaufman taking animal-assisted support to veterinary staff


Studnet with her dog

Alexandra Kaufman, a Slippery Rock University senior social work major, loves working with animals, including her dog, Elmer, a Red English Labrador.

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Alexandra Kaufman, a Slippery Rock University senior social work major from Zelienople, is conducting research this summer about the effectiveness of animal-assisted support for veterinary staff.

Funded by a grant through SRU's Summer Collaborative Research Experience program, Kaufman's project is being conducted under the advisement of Yvonne Eaton-Stull, associate professor of social work. The SCORE grant supports faculty-student research projects up to $5,000 and helps develop research skills and discipline techniques for undergraduates.

Summary: Kaufman is implementing animal-assisted activities with veterinary staff at Blue Pearl Pet Hospitals in Pittsburgh and Washington, Pennsylvania. The goal is to spread awareness about the benefits animals can bring to people experiencing stress and burnout. Veterinary staff may be around animals all day at work, but these interventions with healthy, vibrant animals could be more beneficial than always being around sick or injured animals.

Research question: Can animal-assisted support be beneficial for veterinary staff?

Methods: Kaufman will provide animal-assisted support sessions to Blue Pearl staff who choose to participate in this study. Participants will spend at least 10 minutes with certified therapy dogs during monthly, two-hour sessions facilitated by SRU researchers from May until August. At each session, researchers will measure participants' physiological measures, such as heart rate and blood pressure, along with the professional quality of life scale, which is a survey that measures their wellbeing on the job. During the last month of sessions, participants will complete a "pet bonding scale" to assess their views of the dog visits. Pre- and post-test measures will be analyzed their effectiveness of the sessions.

Why this topic?: "This topic is not only a part of my education at SRU, but also plays a part in my future career and everyday life," Kaufman said. "Animal-assisted interventions are a fairly new practice in the U.S.; however, other countries are much more developed and there is plenty of research to show it.

How will this study benefit others?: "Not only will this study help to further research within the animal-assisted interventions field, but also help find ways to aid veterinary burnout, stress and suicide rates," Kaufman said. "Veterinary staff rates of burnout and suicide are extremely high, and although there is no definite solution for this, researching new ways to help is beneficial for all." According to international research, the veterinary profession has a rate of suicide four times the general population and double the rate of other health care professions.

How do SRU students benefit from conducting research?: "This research is extremely beneficial for me because I get to work hands-on with therapy dogs," Kaufman said. "By doing this type of research, I'm able to better understand how to apply what I'm studying to a professional career."

What's next?: Kaufman hopes to publish her findings in a professional journal next year and present the research at the 2024 SRU Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity. Kaufman plans to work in a child and youth services center after graduating next year. She intends to use animal-assisted interventions in other settings, such as schools, hospitals, hospice care, nonprofits, government, and more.

More information about SRU's animal-assisted social work certificate and minor in animal-assisted interventions is available on the University's website, as well as an article summarizing research, outreach and SRU alumni using animal-assisted interventions in their careers. More information about the SCORE grant is available on SRU's Grants Office webpage under the internal funding opportunities tab.

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