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Creating space to build emotional resilience in the animal research community

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The relationships between individuals and the research animals they work with can enhance animal welfare, but they also involve a moral cost to staff. Securing a safe space to communicate openly about animal welfare & research and acknowledge its emotional impacts is crucial. In this Comment, we reflect on emotional resilience and provide resources available to help manage the emotional burden of working with laboratory animals.
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Creating space to build emotional resilience in
the animal research community
The relationships between individuals and the research animals they work with can enhance animal welfare,
but they also involve a moral cost to sta. Securing a safe space to communicate openly about animal welfare &
research and acknowledge its emotional impacts is crucial. In this Comment, we reflect on emotional resilience and
provide resources available to help manage the emotional burden of working with laboratory animals.
Jordi L. Tremoleda and Angela Kerton
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has
forced many institutions to scale
back operations, including animal
research. Institutions as well as suppliers,
who have reported receiving fewer orders,
have had to greatly reduce their animal
stocks1. After being tasked with culling those
stocks, animal staff must now support all the
general maintenance of those animals that
remain. While there is a general consensus
among institutional governance that these
decisions had to be taken to support ‘stay
at home’ recommendations and reduce risk
to human health, it is important that we
acknowledge the emotional pressures of
performing such actions.
For animal care staff, euthanasia
remains a major professional duty with
an enormous emotional burden. It is a
regulatory requirement that laboratory
animals be humanely euthanized to
alleviate any unnecessary pain and suffering
to protected animals, or when necessary
as the result of a research study. While
animal researchers may find some comfort
from the fact that the animals they are
euthanizing have a justifiable purpose
and meaning and that the procedure is
appropriately performed, facing the
task of euthanizing animals can be
psychologically challenging and lead to
euthanasia stress. The tension between a
commitment to keep healthy animals
and the obligation to euthanize those
same animals in a professional manner
is one of the hardest elements of the
job to reconcile2,3.
The relationship between laboratory
animals and those who work with them
has an overwhelming impact not just on
the animals’ wellbeing, but also on the
emotional health of animal staff. This
emotional impact is exacerbated by the
responsibilities of working with other
sentient beings and determining how
best to ensure their wellbeing following
humanely induced interventions that
cause certain degrees of harm or distress.
Staff can also feel pressured by increasing
social accountability4 and by their own
individual moral values on care and
compassion. The professional expectation
that those working in animal research be
devoid of concerns is not realistic, as all
people are prone to stress because of the
peculiarities of their duties5.
Indeed, staff working with laboratory
animals are exposed to many moral
stressors, including experimental
procedures and animal euthanasia, that
significantly contribute to the development
of compassion fatigue,6 a condition
characterized by a reduced capacity for
empathy and caring behavior following the
knowledge that others have experienced
a traumatizing event. Compassion fatigue
can drive physical and emotional distress
and diminish the quality of care and welfare
attention delivered to animals7. Symptoms
can include disruptive attitudes, such as
lack of communication with colleagues
and isolation from others, which can
progress towards bottling up emotions,
difficulty concentrating, mental and physical
tiredness, and depression.
A related concept, empathetic distress
fatigue, may better capture the consequences
for caregivers such as animal staff8.
Compassion is an attitude associated with
‘feeling for,’ while empathy is more closely
associated with a sense of ‘feeling with’ and
has a stronger affective impact9. Such an
excessive emotional altruism, if not well
balanced, can lead to an excess of self-
responsibilities; this pressure can progress
Compassion fatigue among animal staff can lead to feelings of isolation and hinder lab animal care.
A supportive environment is key for building emotional resilience. Credit: jayk7 / Moment / Getty
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comment
towards disconnected emotions and thus,
less attention to animal care.
A good culture of care is key to the
welfare of laboratory animals, and it is
also central to the wellbeing of the staff
working directly and indirectly with those
animals; this in turn has a direct impact on
the quality of the science10,11. Empathetic
behavior can only develop when staff
feel emotionally and physically safe and
that they are valued; institutions must
support this caring professional attitude
and ensure that their staff perceive actions
and communications from management
as supportive.
Providing a safe space where the staff
can reflect on their individual experiences
and receive support for their emotional
and/or physical challenges is important.
Sharing and analyzing personal experiences
at work, whether individually or in groups,
can help others learn from those experiences
and encourage an attitude of care. Team
exploration and interactive reflection are
also important, as individuals with different
responsibilities will identify different issues
that can affect behavior. Institutions should
be acknowledging the affective state of
their staff members and encourage their
confidence in providing compassionate care.
For example, well-recognized techniques
for developing compassion skills are found
in mindfulness programs, which provide
personal space and tools to promote
individual and group communication.
Engaging communication should occur
between staff with different levels and areas
of expertise, as one should be mindful
of different moral or cultural values and
competing pressures and responsibilities.
It is important to appreciate the different
dimensions and expressions of emotional
resilience—and some of its challenges—
by reflecting on the ways in which the
emotional labor of caring is distributed
across all staff working in animal research.
Resources to support cultures of care
and building up emotional resilience
Emotional resilience is the ability to
respond and adapt to stressful situations.
Whilst laboratory animal personnel may
be particularly at risk of experiencing
significant stress in their work, it is
important that they can tackle such
challenges and live through adversity in
their caring duties. Being flexible and
adaptable is crucial and everyone can
take steps to develop greater personal
emotional resilience.
Strategies for supporting care
and emotional work include sharing
responsibilities, sharing scientific work
and goals, and sharing stories between
the different stakeholders in animal
research. Animal Welfare Bodies and
Institutional Ethical Committees must
reinforce the importance of shared
responsibility and having a pro-active
approach towards animal care and
welfare; they should also underscore the
importance of effective communication
and valuing interpersonal elements of
care to empower their staff and show that
them they are respected, will be listened
to, and that their roles are supported
throughout the establishment. It is crucial
that all voices and concerns be heard,
emotional challenges recognized, and all
dealt with positively.
Divide emotional labor. Promoting team
working approaches with well-assigned
individual and group-shared responsibilities
remains an important strategy for nurturing
a good culture of care; it can also help
dilute individual emotional burdens. Such
a collaborative ethos should be already
established across all the animal research
community, including reciprocal interaction
between researchers and animal care staff.
A hierarchic approach can be detrimental
to openness and communication and could
lead to staff disengagement, eventually
evolving towards less caring attitudes2,5. The
division of labor is well aligned to efficiency
of labor, and it is likely to reduce the impact
of challenging duties, such as culling and
euthanasia, thus serving to minimize staff
stress and anxiety.
Support emotional openness. Laboratory
animal set ups, which can often feel very
formal and focused on compliance and
biosafety regulations, can make displaying
emotions complex. Common areas are
generally dedicated to catering or bench
administrative duties, with limited social
space and generally restricted natural
lightning. However, it is important to
provide both individuals and teams with a
space to accommodate ‘switching off’ for
personal and reflective time and where staff
can feel comfortable openly discussing their
work and its emotional impact.
Communication during breaks must
be encouraged and that time protected.
Staff can easily develop a protective
attitude towards emotional ‘old wounds;’
such seemingly emotional resilience can
easily build up to disconnection and lack
of engagement. Furthermore, laboratory
animal professionals often do not talk
openly in public about their chosen career
pathway for fear of disproval or personal
security concerns. This may lead to feelings
of suppression and even shame for working
in a somewhat ‘covert,’ little understood
professional sector. Therefore, we need
to acknowledge emotions and facilitate
openness within a safe and respectful space
in the lab animal field.
Table 1 | Emotional resilience on-line resources
Source Resource
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) https://www.vetmindmatters.org/
The Webinar Vet ‘Turning mind-full to mindful’ https://www.thewebinarvet.com/course/mindfulness-course-series-1/
The University of Oxford Mindfulness Centre https://www.oxfordmindfulness.org/
UK mental health charity Mind https://www.mind.org.uk/
American Association for Laboratory Animal Science
(AALAS) Cost of Caring https://www.aalas.org/education/educational-resources/cost-of-caring/
Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science /
Association Canadienne pour la Science des Animaux
de Laboratoire (CALAS/ACSAL
COVID-19: One person’s perspective on the toll on animals and humans, from present state of
the pandemic https://calas-acsal.org/site/resources/articles/march2
LabRoots Compassion Fatigue: Education and Engagement in Animal Research by Marian Esvelt, DVM
https://www.labroots.com/webinar/compassion-fatigue-education-engagement-animal-research/
Institute of Animal Technology, UK Let’s talk euthanasia https://tinyurl.com/letstakIAT1
It’s OK, not to be OK, Let’s talk about COVID-19 https://tinyurl.com/letstakIAT2
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comment
While it is true the provision of many
professional and environmental working
factors are directly impacted by institutional
and managerial decisions (e.g. working
rotas, scheduling, work expectation and
appraisal, delivery outcomes, working
physical space, sick /annual leave),
managers are not professional mental
health care workers, nor do they have
the specific training for undertaking
such responsibilities. Therefore it is
important that institutions facilitate access
to professional counselling and pastoral
support, and that staff are well informed
of these opportunities. Nevertheless,
managers may find themselves the first
port of call for those in need of support,
so it is important that the appropriate
routes of communication are established,
to preserve trust and confidentiality with
the managers and staff.
Be aware of the increasing resources
available. Individual pro-action remains
one of the key pillars of emotional balance,
along with the abovementioned approaches
to express emotional challenges and
to develop better coping mechanisms.
Techniques that encourage expression and
openness of emotions and support positive
learning from personal experiences to build
up optimistic patterns and judgements on
specific challenges would promote better
emotional connection with colleagues.
Similarly, supporting personal acceptance
and avoiding comparison with others while
building up pride in any job, small or large,
will enhance participation and engagement
among colleagues. There are many
professional resources available to support
this, particularly for animal technologists12,13,
and they adapt to a range of new working
measures while also highlighting the need to
protect work/life balance. Several resources
are summarized in Table 1.
The laboratory animal field is facing
considerable challenges, in light of the
Covid-19 pandemic and beyond it, with
increasing expectations for new therapeutic
discoveries and stronger commitments
to protect the welfare of both animals
and laboratory animal workers. As these
challenging demands increase, so does the
risk of compassion & empathetic fatigue and
the need to protect the emotional integrity
of animal staff. Support remains limited,
and we urge readers to continue raising
awareness and developing resources to
encourage a culture of openness regarding
emotional labor and the support of staff
dealing with compassion fatigue. The
implementation of discussion platforms and
resilience training opportunities that we
have identified will improve not only animal
welfare and staff wellbeing, but also the
integrity of our research.
In other words: “Sharing science,
sharing care.”
Jordi L. Tremoleda  1,2 ✉ and Angela Kerton3
1e Blizard Institute, Barts and the London School
of Medicine, London, UK. 2Biological Services.
4 Newark St, London E1 2AT, UK. 3e Learning
Curve (Development) Ltd., P.O Box 140, Ware,
Hertfordshire SG9 0ZN, UK.
e-mail: j.lopez-tremoleda@qmul.ac.uk
Published: xx xx xxxx
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41684-020-0637-7
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https://www.iat.org.uk/ [Accessed July 2020]
Acknowledgements
We are very grateful to Dr Beth Greenhough for her
guidance and support during the writing of this document.
Competing interests
The authors declare no competing interests.
LAB ANIMAL | www.nature.com/laban
... 11 These refer to an array of harms to animal laboratory personnel associated with physical and emotional distress that can also impact the quality of care and welfare attention given to animals. 12 There is some disagreement about the nature of compassion fatigue, and some have argued it is a misnomer, that in fact it is empathy, not compassion, that can lead to the burn-out and other associated harms that are observed. 13 For our purposes, we are concerned about the overall negative welfare impact on laboratory animal personnel arising from harming animals used in research, and the factors that influence their occurrence and extent. ...
... However, current standards do mean AECs should have regard for AUB, because this may make laboratory animal personnel less able to maintain high animal welfare standards, 12 and some iii However, we accept that AUB may be implicit in some aspects of ethical review. For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association includes aspects of AUB in their assessment of techniques covered in their 'Euthanasia Guidelines'. ...
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The biomedical industry relies on the skills of Animal Technologists(ATs) to put laboratory animal welfare into practice. This is the first study to explore how this is achieved in relation to their participation in implementing refinement and reduction, two of the three key guiding ethical principles––the “3Rs”––of what is deemed to be humane animal experimentation. The interpretative approach contributes to emerging work within the social sciences and humanities exploring care and ethics in practice. Based on qualitative analysis of participant observation within animal research facilities in UK universities, in-depth interviews with Animal Technologists, facility managers and other stakeholders, and analysis of regulatory guidelines, we draw a contrast between the minimum required of ATs by law and how their care work not only meets, but often exceeds these requirements. We outline how ATs constitute a key source of innovation and insight into the refinement of animal care and the reduction of animal use, hitherto not formally acknowledged. Exploring AT care work as an example of ethics in practice makes an original contribution to broader debates within healthcare and animal welfare about how technology, regulation and behavior can foster and sustain a culture of care. <br/
Article
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Background —The study of occupational stress and compassion fatigue in personnel working in animal-related occupations has gained momentum over the last decade. However, there remains incongruence in understanding what is currently termed compassion fatigue and the associated unique contributory factors. Furthermore, there is minimal established evidence of the likely influence of these conditions on the health and well-being of individuals working in various animal-related occupations. Objective —To assess currently available evidence and terminology regarding occupational stress and compassion fatigue in personnel working in animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and biomedical research facilities. Data Sources —Studies were identified by searching the following electronic databases with no publication date restrictions: ProQuest Research Library, ProQuest Social Science Journals, PsycARTICLES, Web of Science, Science Direct, Scopus, PsychINFO databases, and Google Scholar. Search terms included (euthanasia AND animals) OR (compassion fatigue AND animals) OR (occupational stress AND animals). Study Appraisal and Synthesis —Only articles published in English in peer-reviewed journals that included use of quantitative or qualitative techniques to investigate the incidence of occupational stress or compassion fatigue in the veterinary profession or animal-related occupations were included. On the basis of predefined criteria, 1 author extracted articles, and the data set was then independently reviewed by the other 2 authors. Results —12 articles met the selection criteria and included a variety of study designs and methods of data analysis. Seven studies evaluated animal shelter personnel, with the remainder evaluating veterinary nurses and technicians (2), biomedical research technicians (1), and personnel in multiple animal-related occupations (2). There was a lack of consistent terminology and agreed definitions for the articles reviewed. Personnel directly engaged in euthanasia reported significantly higher levels of work stress and lower levels of job satisfaction, which may have resulted in higher employee turnover, psychological distress, and other stress-related conditions. Limitations and Conclusions —Results of this review suggested a high incidence of occupational stress and euthanasia-related strain in animal care personnel. The disparity of nomenclature and heterogeneity of research methods may contribute to general misunderstanding and confusion and impede the ability to generate high-quality evidence regarding the unique stressors experienced by personnel working with animals. The present systematic review provided insufficient foundation from which to identify consistent causal factors and outcomes to use as a basis for development of evidence-based stress management programs, and it highlights the need for further research.
Chapter
There are over 9,000 extant species of bird. All belong to the Class Aves, which is characterised by the presence of feathers and oviparity (egg-laying). Birds are vertebrate, endothermic (“warm-blooded”) animals with a well-developed central and peripheral nervous system; all species have many features in common with one another, but there are also important differences between them.
Chapter
In this chapter, we discuss the role of empathy as the main precursor for prosocial behavior, taking perspectives that span from social and developmental psychology to social neuroscience. We begin by introducing compassion fatigue in caregivers as a form of pathological altruism. We move on to introduce such relevant concepts as empathy, compassion, empathic concern, and distress; we then review relevant empirical findings from social and developmental psychology and social neuroscience. Finally, we propose a new integrative model that suggests that the term compassion fatigue should be replaced by the term empathic distress fatigue to more accurately account for symptoms of withdrawal and burnout. We conclude by outlining potential ways to circumvent the downside of too much empathy.
Attitudes to animal research in
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