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

Scotney, R.L.; McLaughlin, D.; Keates, H.L.

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 247(10): 1121-1130


ISSN/ISBN: 0003-1488
PMID: 26517615
DOI: 10.2460/javma.247.10.1121
Accession: 057103042

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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. 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. 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). 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. 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. 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.