Robert Ackerman and his therapy dog, Little Man, were among those recognized during this year’s National Solidarity Week for Compassionate Patient Care.
Held each February, National Solidarity Day for Compassionate Patient Care has grown into a weeklong celebration for Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) honorees to display solidarity for the compassionate and humanistic care of patients.
The Gold Humanism Honor Society was started in the 1990s by the late Arnold P. Gold, MD. National Solidarity Week focuses on the Arnold P. Gold Foundation’s mission to spread compassionate, patient-centered care in medicine.
The honor society recognizes students and residents who demonstrate excellence in both clinical and interpersonal skills modeling the “qualities of integrity, excellence, compassion, altruism, respect and empathy.” Members are nominated by their peers.
More than 60 GHHS chapters participated in this year’s Solidarity events, each showing appreciation for members of the care team in their own way.
At the University of Tennessee, students chose to focus on the healing power of therapy animals and on showing appreciation for the trainers and organizations that make animal-assisted therapy in hospitals possible. Student physicians throughout Tennessee experienced firsthand the effects therapy animals have on the well-being of patients. The GHHS honorees provided thank you notes to animal trainers and special treats for the therapy animals to show appreciation for the important work they do throughout the year.
“This event reinforces the power of caring and the holistic nature of medical care,” said Blake Daniels, UTHSC College of Medicine fourth-year student and GHHS member.
Ackerman and Little Man volunteer at Methodist University Hospital through West TN Therapy Dogs.
Several years ago, Ackerman, who was a successful businessman, needed liver transplant surgery. His wife, Connie Covington, helped him throughout the experience and the following recovery. Years later, Connie developed cancer and passed away. Robert said Connie was instrumental in a large way to him pursuing volunteering in pet therapy because she promoted and supported his pet therapy efforts.
“Throughout this experience, I said to myself, if I survived, I owed time back to the hospital that had given so much back to me,” he said. That hospital was Methodist University Hospital, where he volunteers today.
Ackerman said his past experiences help him relate to more of the patients.
“I’m grateful to be able to do this,” Ackerman said. “They see me and see what could be. My experience as a liver transplant patient helped me to become a better therapist, because I’ve been on both sides of the bed. I can talk to the patients on a medical level.”
Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to improve the mental, physical, social, and emotional well-being of patients, reducing blood pressure, depression, and risk of heart attack or stroke. Just the simple act of petting an animal has shown to lower anxiety and elevate mood.
Autism, addiction, cancer, heart disease, mental health including dementia, and developmental disorders, are among the health conditions that benefit greatly from animal-assisted therapy.
“Solidarity Week was an amazing opportunity to both honor and witness the positivity that pet therapy teams bring to the hospital every day,” said Susan Li, UTHSC College of Medicine fourth-year student and GHHS member. “From the patients and their families to nurses and doctors, everyone’s faces lit up when they saw the dogs.”
GHHS honorees in Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga participated in the Solidarity Week event which included Methodist University Hospital, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, and the UT Medical Center in Knoxville.
Gold Humanism Honor Society would like thank Robert Ackerman for his participation in this story.