Veterinarians and veterinary technicians are exposed daily to high occupational stress and demanding work environments, which can result in the development of compassion fatigue. Laboratory animal personnel represent a subset of veterinary personnel who are at risk for compassion fatigue. Laboratory animal veterinarians and technicians in biomedical research facilities interact with research animals daily, providing preventive and emergency veterinary care, husbandry, veterinary support for research procedures, and environmental enrichment. Daily interaction with animals, as well as the passion for animal health and welfare that drives individuals to enter the field of veterinary medicine, results in a bond between worker and animal, commonly referred to as the human-animal bond. This emotional bond, coupled with the duties to support research protocols that are often terminal, or cause pain or distress to animals, can result in compassion fatigue, decreasing the worker’s job satisfaction, mental health, and overall performance.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has many laboratory animal medicine veterinarians and other animal care personnel who care for animals in research. For my practicum experience, I worked with the clinical investigation division at Madigan Army Medical Center and the Army Veterinary Corps to develop a program to prevent and mitigate compassion fatigue among animal care personnel in animal research environments. Literature was reviewed to identify current best practices, the population was surveyed to identify wants and needs in a program, a working group was established to further discuss needs of internal stakeholders, and external resources were reviewed and consolidated. Policy recommendations were established for distribution to leadership in animal research environments to combat compassion fatigue and increase job satisfaction.