Compassion Fatigue Resiliency

There have been increasing numbers of publications on compassion fatigue both within and beyond the research animal field. Below are the ones most relevant to our field, in chronological order by publication year, with a brief description of their findings below.

Brief publication descriptions:

1. Davies et al. 2014. Emotional Dissonance Among UK Animal Technologists: Evidence, Impact and Management Implications. Plymouth University Thesis.

  • Emotional dissonance in animal technologists is most reportedly associated with guilt, shame, sadness as well as negative impacts on job satisfaction.
  • Participants reported a paradox between animal care and scientific needs with euthanasia as the biggest emotional trigger.
  • Gender influenced emotional affect and had a relationship between guilt and euthanasia.

2. Scotney et al. 2015. A systematic review of the effects of euthanasia and occupational stress in personnel working with animals in animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and biomedical research facilities. JAVMA.

  • Systematic review identified 12 studies that were included in the analysis.
  • Overall personnel working with animals can experience traumatic stress and compromised well-being: specifically higher levels of work stress and lower levels of job satisfaction if they perform euthanasia.
  • Important coping strategies include social support and understanding from others.
  • Limitations include the array of terminology used across the field: compassion fatigue, euthanasia-related stress, occupational stress, etc…

3. Newsome et al. 2019. Compassion Fatigue, Euthanasia Stress, and Their Management in Laboratory Animal Research. JAALAS.

    • Clarifies different definitions between compassion stress, moral stress, compassion fatigue, compassion satisfaction and euthanasia stress.
    • Both individual and organization-wide signs can indicate employee compassion fatigue.
    • To mitigate risk in employees, it is suggested institutions focus on: training on stress management and compassion fatigue recognition, promoting an environment with open communication and ample social support, increasing employee compassion satisfaction, establishing a wellness program with occupational health and paying attention to those most vulnerable.

4. LaFollette et al. 2020. Laboratory Animal Welfare Meets Human Welfare: A Cross-Sectional Study of Professional Quality of Life, Including Compassion Fatigue in Laboratory Animal Personnel. Frontiers in Vet Sci.

  • 800 personnel in North America completed an online survey in 2018.
  • Higher compassion fatigue was associated with lower social support, higher animal stress/pain, higher desire to implement enrichment and decreased control over conducting euthanasia.
  • Higher burnout was associated with lowered enrichment quality, physical euthanasia methods and longer working hours
  • Higher secondary traumatic stress was associated with increased human-animal interactions and working as a trainer.
  • Higher compassion satisfaction was associated with higher social support, decreased animal stress/pain and increased human-animal interactions.
  • Poorer professional quality of life associated with less social support, higher animal stress/pain, decreased enrichment opportunity/quality, physical euthanasia, being a training, working at a university and working longer hours.

5. Pavan et al. 2020. Using a Staff Survey to Customize Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Mitigation Recommendations in a Lab Animal Facility. JAALAS.

  • Internal survey distributed to Ohio State University’s Animal Lab Resources employees.
  • Over 80% of respondents experienced burnout and compassion fatigue alone or together.
  • Age, number of years in the field and number of animal euthanized were positively associated with burnout and compassion fatigue.
  • Participants suggest more novel work experiences and positive feedback from leaders in their workplace.

6. Engel et al. 2020. Cognitive Dissonance in Laboratory Animal Medicine and Implications for Animal Welfare. JAALAS.

  • 332 veterinarians and veterinary technician survey responses were analyzed.
  • The primary hypothesis, that respondents care about their patient’s welfare and the research they are used for is important, was supported.
  • Respondents report feelings of frustration when working within research protocols, less so for longer-term employees, but feel empowered to initiate change related to animal care and use.
  • Respondents agree welfare may have to be compromised for research
  • To compensate with emotional dissonance, respondents most often shift responsibility to regulators (e.g., IACUCs), sometimes devalue the animals in their care and least often emotionally distance themselves from animals.

7. Murray et al. 2020. Strengthening Workplace Well-Being in Research Animal Facilities. Frontiers in Vet Sci.

  • Factors contributing to workplace stress in laboratory settings include moral stress, compassion stress and fatigue, staffing and effort-reward imbalance, inadequate communication in the workplace and public discomfort with research.
  • Tools to promote well-being and resiliency in the workplace include: social supports, acknowledging the human-animal bond, frequent welfare assessment, 3Rs programs, self-care promotion, learning and development, recognition programs and community service.

8. Tremoleda et al. 2020. Creating space to build emotional resilience in the animal research community. Nature Comment.

  • Review of the factors in the laboratory animal setting that create moral stress.
  • Distinguishes compassion fatigue as ‘feeling for’ and empathetic distress fatigue as ‘feeling with’.
  • Defines emotional resilience as the ‘ability to respond and adapt to stressful situations’ and a critical part of creating a culture of care in the laboratory setting.
  • Strategies include dividing emotional labor across staff, supporting emotional openness at work and in public, take advantage of available resources online.

9. Schlanser et al. 2021. Compassion Fatigue and Satisfaction in US Army Laboratory Animal Medicine Personnel. JAALAS.

  • Cross-sectional study investigating compassion fatigue and the inverse, compassion satisfaction, in 67 US Army Veterinary Corps personnel who worked in research.
  • Half of the respondents report high compassion satisfaction, majority report low to moderate burnout and low secondary traumatic stress.
  • Higher levels of burnout, secondary traumatic stress and lower compassion satisfaction were associated with working with nonhuman primates, difficulty working with PIs loneliness and euthanasia distress.

10. Randall et al. 2021. Mental Wellbeing in Laboratory Animal Professionals: A Cross-Sectional Study of Compassion Fatigue, Contributing Factors, and Coping Mechanisms. JAALAS.

  • Cross-sectional anonymous online questionnaire of 154 laboratory animal personnel from the general population and 268 from a contract research organization.
  • The majority of respondents reported experiencing compassion fatigue and were thus often stressed at work, felt apathetic toward their job and felt it negatively impacted their job.
  • Not experiencing CF associated with emotional stability, openness and extraversion.
  • CF influenced by 1) work-related factors: understaffed, lack of coping resources, poor superior relationships and 2) personal-related factors: poor mental and physical health.
  • Most common coping strategies were talking to someone, work-life balance, self-care, physical activity and owning pets.

11. Goñi-Balentziaga et al. 2021. Professional Quality of Life in Research Involving Laboratory Animals. Animals.

  • Online questionnaire of 498 Spanish biomedical researchers working with laboratory animals.
  • Animal-facility personnel show higher professional quality of life and compassion satisfaction scores than researchers; of specific job categories, PIs and animal welfare officers/veterinarians showed the highest scores, while PhD students show the lowest scores.
  • Compassion satisfaction was negatively associated with perceived animal stress/pain and positively associated with lower social support

12. Van Hooser et al. 2021. Caring for the Animal Caregiver—Occupational Health, Human-Animal Bond and Compassion Fatigue. Frontiers in Vet Sci.

  • The University of Washington laboratory animal professional team describes their Care2Care program promoting self-care and compassion fatigue resiliency.
  • Steps to developing their program involved assessing organizational culture and needs which were increased communication and personnel affected persons can talk to.
  • To target these needs, they implemented community events, improved physical work environment, provided different communication outlets and collaborated with occupational health at the institution.

13. Rumpel et al. 2023. Psychological Stress and Strain in Laboratory Animal Professionals – a Systematic Review. Laboratory Animals.

  • Systematic investigation of 7 quantitative studies, 3 qualitative studies and 1 mixed-methods study into workplace stressors for laboratory animal personnel and moderators that regulate their development into psychological strain.
  • Various terms for psychological strain are used in the literature: compassion fatigue, burnout, secondary traumatic stress.
  • Qualitative studies identify acute manifestations of stressors (e.g., sadness, grief, frustration); quantitative studies identify acute and chronic manifestations (e.g., compassion fatigue, burnout, depression).
  • Social support is the only moderator of psychological strain reliably supported by multiple qualitative and quantitative studies.