In 2016, the College of Health Professions Canines Assisting in Health Program started its mission to educate healthcare providers about service dogs and therapy animals in order to meet the palliative care needs of patients with visible and invisible disabilities.

On July 24, 2019, more than 130 nursing and physician assistant students gathered on the NYC campus to watch “Buried Above Ground” (BAG), an award-winning documentary that follows three individuals, over six years, who suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of war, natural disaster, and physical abuse. A discussion about individuals with PTSD followed the film. Students working together in small interprofessional groups then answered case study questions about PTSD patients and the challenges they face as people whose disabilities are not always visible. They also had an opportunity to hear about service dog programs and meet several therapy dogs.

CHP faculty came together to organize the Interprofessional Education and Practice (IPE&P) opportunity that brings students across the College together to screen the documentary and to engage in conversations across the disciplines on this clinical condition. Mental health conditions in the U.S. are often poorly understood and accepted, and access, availability, and affordability of care need to be improved. Pace faculty members Dr. Joanne Singleton, founder of Canines Assisting in Health and Chairperson of the CHP IPE&P Committee, Dr. Joanne Knoesel, Dr. Marie Charles, and Professor Elizabeth Salzer coordinated and participated in the event.

Approximately one in three people who experience a traumatic event are affect by PTSD. This is across all ages, racial and ethnic groups, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and socio-educational and economic groups, with approximately 14 million adults in the U.S. affected in any given year.According to Ben Selkow, who wrote, produced, and directed BAG, “This documentary can help our nation begin to undo the prevailing forces of silence – guilt, shame and stigma – that engulfs the courageous people struggling to overcome the debilitating disorder.”

“The students appreciated the opportunity to learn more about PTSD and service dogs, and also enjoyed getting to know fellow students from other disciplines,” said Dr. Knoesel.

“This work was inspired by, Luis Carlos Montalvan՛ and his service dog Tuesday, who were partners in the development of Canines Assisting in Health. In sharing his story in “Buried Above Ground,” Luis helps us to see the human experience of living with PTSD. While our hearts are broken by our loss of Luis to the undertow of his PTSD, we know that he would like us to learn from his story,” said Dr. Singleton

Students agreed, one commenting, "I was surprised by the many manifestations of PTSD and the way it affects everyone differently;" and another writing, "I was heartbroken to find out that Luis committed suicide and that Tuesday was not with him, which we now know is a red flag."

To learn more about the documentary, access the BAG link via the Pace Library: