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School of Medicine Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center

Center for Human-Animal Interaction

The VCU School of Medicine is the only medical school in the country which has its own Center for Human-Animal Interaction (CHAI). The center brings together faculty members and adminstrators from various disciplines to provide students with a wide range of educational opportunities. CHAI offers a M4 elective, psychiatric residencies, student practicums, internships and volunteer opportunities to medical students, while students from the Monroe Park campus may work at the center as volunteers or as work-study employees.

The center also serves the VCU Health System through its Dogs on Call program, which provides therapeutic visits to patients and staff members in pediatrics, oncology, psychology, psychiatry, emergency medicine, rehabilitation, physical therapy and various other departments at the VCU Medical Center.

The center is deeply committed to promoting interdisciplinary research in the field of human-animal interaction. Past research studies conducted at CHAI have been published in American Behavioral Scientist, Anthrozoos, Psychological Reports, the Journal of Mental Health and the Journal of Business Education. Current research studies at CHAI include an investigation of the effect of animal-assisted therapy on patients referred for pain and palliative care at the NIH Clinical Center and a study on brain wave activity in normal adults interacting with a therapy dog. A pilot study conducted by the center suggests that healthcare professionals who spend as little as five minutes with a therapy dog experience the same level of stress reduction as healthcare professionals who spend twenty minutes resting quietly.

CHAI relies on a large network of dedicated individuals and institutions, including Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU's School of Medicine, VCU's School of Business, the CHAI Executive Committee, the CHAI Advisory Committee, VCU's School of Nursing, the VCU Medical Center, and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virgina Tech. The center also works closely with regional veterinarians and volunteers to provide the local community with services such as Pet Loss Support, continuing education for professionals and community education workshops.

Currently, CHAI depends heavily on donations to survive, but Center Director Dr. Sandra Barker plans for the center to eventually become a self-sustaining institution. Her goals for the program include funding more research studies, expanding the program to include more students and residents and exploring new treatments based on human-animal interaction therapies. She hopes the center will continue to be an integral part of the VCU School of Medicine.

For information on making a donation or becoming a CHAI volunteer, please contact:

The Center for Human-Animal Interaction
Sandra B. Barker, Ph.D., NCC, LPC, Center Director
Phone: 804-827-PAWS (827-7297)
E-mail: chai@vcu.edu

Visit the Center for Human-Animal Interaction Web site to learn more about this program.