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What constitutes a healthy workplace? (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2010

As veterinary professionals, we have been trained to create a practice environment that focuses on maintaining cleanliness and reducing disease transmission. While these are vital to the health of our staff and patients, we must also consider other aspects of healing. The emotional and energetic atmosphere our clients, staff and patients are exposed to does influence their physical, mental and behavioral well being. It is our obligation to provide a setting conducive to improving staff work life and patient health.

To best understand the importance of appropriate practice environment, we must understand principles of energy theory. In the interest of saving paper, please refer to How Self Awareness Aids Our Patients, Parts I & II for this information.

Energy

Humans and animals have the instinctive ability to energetically interact with everything around them. As positive or negative energy entrains with our energy fields, we are physically and emotionally affected. When the surroundings are stressful, this energy can cause anxiety, weaken the immune system and literally create negative situations for the patient. Procedures can be more difficult, untoward reactions can occur, and healing can be interrupted because of the energy of the people and surroundings. It is imperative that we keep gossip, anger, and drama out of the practice.

If our intention is to create a place of healing and respect, and we act accordingly, the practice will begin to reflect this positive energy. Staff contributing to drama will improve or move on. Clients who are a joy to serve will be attracted to our doorsteps. All of this happens on an unseen, energetic level.

For more information on how to improve your practice situation, see Shifting From A Negative To A Positive Practice Environment

Sound

Sound is an important part of an animal's surroundings, and should be considered when creating a healthy environment. When any new sound is introduced, the focus of the brain turns to this sensory input. This is termed active listening. Once the sound has been processed, the brain returns to a passive hearing state. This is an instinctive process which occurs in animals and humans, called the orienting response

The orienting response is a survival mechanism, and is especially important in prey animals. The ear pinna on dogs, cats and horses allow the reception of sound to occur on a much more sensitive level than in humans. We have all witnessed the sudden arousal of an animal when an unusual or loud sound is heard. While the orienting response can have a positive effect on the animal's survival, there are also negative consequences to it. As animals have been domesticated, and housed in unnatural environments, they have been exposed to sounds that may continually activate their orienting responses. Even though the environmental sounds may not elicit overt fear, the ongoing instinctive reaction to sudden noise can interrupt the animal's relaxed state.

Different animals show different sensitivities to all types of environmental input. Several species of laboratory animals have been studied for sensitivities to sound. One study in dogs showed transient increase in blood sugar following 5 – 10 minutes of sound exposure at 80 dB. There was individual variation among dogs, with reactive dogs exhibiting the most significant change.

Noise pollution is a growing problem in human society, and has been linked to a decrease in immune system function. While no specific research in this area has been done in dogs or cats, studies in mice, rats and humans suggest that immune compromise may be a possibility. As the field of immune research advances in both humans and animals, clarification on the role of noise pollution can be obtained. When we consider that the average American household watches seven hours of television daily, and with the increasing use of electronic gadgets and gaming devices, noise pollution could be a real influence on our veterinary patients' health and well-being. With a reported 45% - 90% of visits to the family veterinarian being related to behavior issues, we should consider what effect noise pollution has on these statistics.

A sonic evaluation can be taken in veterinary offices, grooming facilities or boarding kennels. Note the noise level surrounding the animals. Pay attention to how often a dog or cat jumps when a cage door is slammed, the clippers are running, or the vacuum is sweeping up hair. Staff members yelling across the room and intercoms blaring can elicit continual orienting or startle responses by your patients. A noisy kennel can easily compound the stress of an already anxious boarder. It is important to be aware of the environment our patients are being exposed to, especially when they are recovering from surgery or a severe illness.

A supplement to Veterinary Economics entitled Let the Light In: Hospital Design That Heals (June, 2010) has excellent suggestions on reducing noise in veterinary facilities, including noise reduction ceiling tiles and carpeting and fabric wrapped acoustic panels.