Employees and students participating in animal research are exposed to a wide array of stressors. The work is often physically demanding and may require irregular hours spent in isolation. Individuals may need to provide care for sick animals and could witness morbidity, mortality, and euthanasia. These are just some of the factors that can contribute to stress, burnout, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue.
Workers frequently rationalize these conditions as an unavoidable component of the job and find them difficult to discuss openly. They may also perceive the conditions as weaknesses and engage in self blame. However, these conditions occur because employees and students care deeply for the animals they serve and often ignore their own needs to ensure the job is done well. These concessions can contribute to feelings of sadness, disconnection, and low morale but; they can also degrade a worker’s physical health causing migraines, high blood pressure, low blood sugar, and impaired cognitive function.
Below are several resources intended to raise awareness about stress, burnout, vicarious trauma, and compassion fatigue. Tools and strategies are available to help manage emotions and encourage empathetic, humane, and respectful care for all research animals. Online resources can be explored in private and professional care is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Accessing these resources can help provide validation, strengthen coping mechanisms, and foster a more balanced approach to a difficult job.
Resources for Self Care
Oregon State University: Counseling and Psychological Services
American Veterinary Medical Association: Wellbeing and Peer Assistance
Access to Professional Care
Students - Oregon State University: Counseling and Psychological Services
Employees - Oregon State University: Employee Assistance Program
Research Animal Memorial
Research animals make an undeniable sacrifice for the advancement of knowledge to benefit humans, animals, and society. The close bond that workers form with research animals can make planned scientific outcomes traumatic. It can be therapeutic to honor an animal’s contribution through formal memorial. Research facility managers should foster the development of a space where animal care staff can openly display fond remembrances or engage in thoughtful reflection. Such a space can promote a culture of care within the facility and is an invaluable tool for employee health maintenance.
Understanding the Contribution
Employees and students participating in animal research are not always included on research publications and frequently report feeling unclear about the value of their work with animals. Workers should be encouraged to attend animal research conferences and have access to published scientific literature in order to fully appreciate the impact of their efforts. Follow the link below to view a publication on the Management of Animal Care and Use Programs in Research Education and Testing, 2nd Edition. Chapter 2 addresses a “Culture of Care”.
If you need any additional information, please contact the Animal Program Office (APOffice@oregonstate.edu).