Compassion Fatigue: Education and Engagement in Animal Research

Speaker

Abstract

Compassion Fatigue can affect all those that care for and work with laboratory animals, including husbandry staff, veterinary staff, researchers, and other support staff. It is known as the “cost of caring,” and is caused by the connection that we experience with those we are taking care of, and the absorption their pain and suffering. It depletes our emotional resources to constantly care for and about animals, and the effect is heightened with those that form strong bonds with the research animals. The effects of this condition manifest as mental, behavioral, and physical changes, such as apathy, irritability, heightened emotions, isolation, addictive behaviors, and worsened chronic health issues. This is a relatively new topic in the field of laboratory animal science, and information regarding it is not often taught in a basic training course. At the University of Michigan, we have recently started to increase awareness and provide resources and support for our staff to combat compassion fatigue. This includes building a relationship between our Employee Assistance Program counseling group and the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine (ULAM), adding language to our required animal user training, creating a Peer Support Group, providing animal memorial boards at our now annual Science of Enrichment Symposium, and creating a committee to plan an animal memorial event. We have received positive feedback regarding these additions, and continue to work to make changes to our program to foster a culture of openness regarding compassion fatigue, and to improve morale by improving work satisfaction. It is our belief that caring for the mental well-being of those that work with research animals helps maintain employees in our field that deeply care about animals, increases job satisfaction, and encourages new ideas to promote increased animal welfare.


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