Compassion Fatigue

Information and resources about workplace stress for research animal professionals.

Background

Many laboratory animal professionals enter the field because we love and care for animals. We form bonds with the animals in the laboratory and enjoy caring for them. Unfortunately, ultimately most of these bonds are broken at the end of the study. And during studies we may view animals in unavoidable distress. Furthermore, we may experience moral & emotional stress from laboratory animal research. We also may not feel supported by society or even friends and family in our work since laboratory animal research has social stigma.

All of this can lead to workplace stress which has known negative effects in the human medical field such as increased depression & exhaustion, decreased patient satisfaction and quality of care, and increase staff turnover & absenteeism. One type of workplace stress is called compassion fatigue which is comprised of burnout and secondary traumatic stress.

Related to compassion fatigue, is the issue of cognitive dissonance. This occurs when personnel hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. For example, personnel may believe that both animal wellbeing and animal use in research are very important, but at times both factors can conflict (Engel 2020). As a result, personnel can experience feelings of discomfort & frustration (Engel 2020). 

What factors are linked to higher compassion fatigue?

How can we promote compassion fatigue resiliency?

There are a variety of ways that institutions & individuals can work to manage workplace stress and support workplace well-being. Note that research evidence is not always available to demonstrate the effectiveness of each strategy, but they may be worth trying.

Encourage social support via respecting boundaries between home & work life (and encouraging staff to take breaks from work), peer counseling/discussions, & staff engagement activities.

Communicate the value the human-animal bond, animal contributions, & research such as creating animal memorials/tributes, scheduling time for human-animal interactions, allowing animals to be named, and communicating the value of research to all staff. Promoting animal adopting & rehoming programs where possible.

Promote self-care, resiliency, & wellness such as seminars on sleep, nutrition, exercise, deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, relaxation, volunteering, etc. Institutions could also provide in-house fitness facilities, yoga, or meditation classes or reimbursement enrollment in these activities. Staff should be trained on compassion fatigue & resilience.

Provide choice for animal euthanasia by allowing staff to either opt-in or opt-out of this procedure.

Support for animal behavior, welfare, & the 3Rs via a comprehensive animal welfare assessment/management programs, internal 3Rs or animal welfare awards, advocating for refinement/replacement/reduction, regular continuing education.

Advocate for an open atmosphere of dialogue about animal research both within and outside of work. Provide opportunities for staff to report questions or concerns internally. Provide training & encourage public outreach regarding biomedical research. Participate in Biomedical Research Awareness Day.

Are there any exemplary compassion fatigue programs?

The University of Washington has a program focused on Compassion In Science called Dare 2 Care.

The University of Michigan also has a Compassion Awareness Project.

Further Reading & References

Peer reviewed compassion fatigue paper
Lab Animal Welfare Meets Human Welfare: A Cross-Sectional Study
Mental Wellbeing in Lab Animal Professionals: A Cross-Sectional Study
Professional Quality of Life in Research Involving Laboratory Animals
Professional Quality of Life in Research Involving Laboratory Animals
Emotional dissonance among UK animal technologists: evidence, impact and management implications
Compassion Fatigue and Satisfaction in US Army Laboratory Animal Medicine Personnel
Compassion Fatigue and Satisfaction in US Army Laboratory Animal Medicine Personnel
Strengthening Workplace Well-Being in Research Animal Facilities
Using a staff survey to customize burnout and compassion fatigue mitigation recommendations in a lab animal facility
Creating space to build emotional resilience in the animal research community
Compassion Fatigue, Euthanasia Stress, and Their Management
Cognitive Dissonance in Laboratory Animal Medicine and Implications for Animal Welfare
Compassion Fatigue: The Cost of Caring

Webinars & Presentations

Below, you can view the talk our Program Manager, Dr. Megan LaFollette gave in collaboration with NC3Rs on compassion fatigue in laboratory animal research.

A similar presentation was given by Dr. Megan LaFollette with commentary on compassion fatigue from Dr. Cindy Buckmaster in April 2020. Co-housed by SUBR & AMP. Listen here.

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Compassion Fatigue Professionals

If your institution is looking for even more professional help with compassion fatigue, the below individuals offer a variety of services such as needs assessments, workshops, and group discussions. They can provide personalized recommendations, management, and accountability with your program.

Dr. Heather Hersh is a licensed clinical psychologist, Ivy League professor, and public educator. Heather brings warmth, compassion, and wisdom to help people move forward in their lives. She has extensive experience with people from all walks of life, socioeconomic backgrounds, careers, cultures and religion, ages, genders, and sexual identities.

Heather passionately supports the well-being of laboratory animal professionals. She provides a safe, nurturing space in which individuals and groups can identify the factors that are causing distress and less-optimal lives. She then teaches pragmatic skills and tools that allow them to thrive and to live optimally.

Find out more about Heather’s offerings on her website.

Anneke Keizer is the co-owner and founder of CopePlus, a small company specializing in setting up Compassion Fatigue Support Programs for professionals working with laboratory animals.

 

In the course of a diverse 36-year career in all aspect of Laboratory Animal Science, Anneke has proven to be a skilled manager, with a deep understanding of the needs and problems laboratory animal professionals face each day. Prior to starting CopePlus, Anneke was associate director of Laboratory Animal Resources at Princeton University, responsible for daily operations of the animal facility in the department of psychology.  Before that, she was associate director, Laboratory Animal Resources at Merck & Co.

 

Anneke holds a Bachelor of Laboratory Animal Science degree and a Master of Business Administration (Labor Relations) degree.  She is LATg certified, is a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional (CCFP) and an ILAM graduate.

Julie Squires is a Compassion Fatigue Specialist and Certified Life Coach who brings a unique perspective and approach to support the sustained energy and passion of those that work with and for animals in the emotionally challenging fields of veterinary medicine, animal welfare, lab animal research, animal advocacy and conservation/environmentalism. She does this in a very distinct way, by empowering them to help themselves through easy-to-implement yet powerful tools that allow them to see that they have much more control over their emotional lives than they realize. 

Find out more about Julie’s offerings on her website.

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