Jim Piepenbrink: Clinical Engineering Goes to the Dog

Like many departments, the Clinical Engineering Department at Boston Medical Center strives to be closely integrated into the clinical arena. Normally, this is done through things such as cross-functional projects, device training, committees, and rounds. Through these activities, we feel very much a part of the clinical team. We now have a secret weapon that has opened up these relationships in ways we never thought would happen. The secret weapon is Dexter, a 7-year-old therapy dog owned by one of our clinical engineers, Michael Hurley.


Boston Medical Center launched an animal visitation program, Healing Paws, which allows certified therapy dogs and their handlers visit eligible patients. When Mike learned of this program, he enrolled Dexter in a certification program because he felt that this program would be a huge benefit to our patients, and that Dexter would be a great addition to the program. After Dexter completed his training and was certified, Mike interviewed with the program director and dog behaviorist as well as the nurse manager of the unit where he would normally visit.

Dexter became an official member of Boston Medical Center and had his first visit on April 11 when he interacted with a few patients and staff on one of our surgical floors. The next Monday, April 15, was the day of the Boston Marathon bombings. As early as the next day, a request was made of Mike to bring Dexter to visit with the families and victims. Mike and Dexter visited 20 of the 23 victims and over the course of the next few days and weeks they were a fixture on the units and helped create a wonderful diversion for the families and victims. There were lots of pictures, Facebook posts and friendships formed as a result of the time spent with people.

The following is a story posted on our intranet site from a clinical instructor in nursing at the center:

This week I saw Mike Hurley, an engineer in Clinical Engineering, with his dog Dexter at BMC. Mike brings Dexter to work every Wednesday to visit with patients as part of the Healing Paws program. Once a rescue dog, Dexter now rescues others by bringing a smile to their faces. It’s a chance for patients to escape for a moment from a medical condition and an opportunity to visit and share the common bond of a love of animals with another.

Mike had just spent time rounding on the floors that received patients injured at the Marathon. In an effort to help them, he had brought Dexter in for extra duty. Mike shared the story of one of their visits that day. They visited three members from a family affected by the tragedy. Two of them had been seriously injured at the Marathon and were recuperating together in the same room. He and his furry companion were a bright spot in the family’s day. This was an ordinary intervention, and a moment of compassion, delivered in an extraordinary way.


Michael Hurley and Dexter

Dexter continues to visit with us and the impact that he has had on patient care has been extraordinary and this has been such a positive influence for patients and staff. We have had the ability to assist in the patient experience out in front for a change where our work was often times behind the scenes. This story is dedicated to the loving memory of Gabby—a therapy dog in her own right who was a friend of the department.

Jim Piepenbrink is the director of the Clinical Engineering Department at Boston Medical Center.

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