Dr. Barry Receives Ellington Beavers Award for Study on Empathy in Care Workers

By Caitlin Burns | July 28, 2021



By Rikki Rosenthal ’21

Undergraduate Healthcare Administration Program Director and School of Global Business Associate Professor Dr. Teta Barry received the Ellington Beavers Fund for Intellectual Inquiry for her study on job satisfaction, empathy, and stress management in direct care aides working in long-term care facilities.

Dr. Barry’s project focuses on stress management interventions and their effect on job satisfaction and levels of empathy and stress in aides as a solution to the turnover problem in long-term care facilities. Due to the growing aging population, the best quality of care is  provided when aides have a relationship with residents. Dr. Barry said that the current high-rate of turnover doesn’t offer enough time for most aides to build that relationship with their residents.

“One of the most important personal characteristics human beings have is empathy,” said Dr. Barry. “And not just toward the elderly, but having empathy toward each other and toward the environment; and so, this is one way to tap into that, and I’m really passionate about this work.” 

Dr. Barry worked as a nurse’s aide before becoming a researcher in higher education. In that previous role, Dr. Barry specifically looked at the job for ways to improve upon the work environment. 

“The reason why I’m in this work is because I really respect the elderly, and I have since I was a little kid,” Dr. Barry said. “I would spend my free time in nursing homes and senior centers, so I want to make lives for vulnerable elderly the best that they possibly can be, and the people who are influencing that the most are the aides. I want them to have the best kind of atmosphere that they possibly can have so it’s kind of a win-win situation.”

The hypothesis of Dr. Barry’s study suggests that those who spend more time meditating and doing breathing exercises are going to have more changes in their job satisfaction, stress and empathy levels, and ultimately turnover rates. Outcomes will be measured through a questionnaire given to aides before and after the study. 

Participants are found through Acts Retirement Life Communities, which are located throughout Pennsylvania and eight other states. To participate in the study, aides must work with residents with dementia, as they have the highest levels of stress on the job. Dr. Barry plans to start with focus groups of around 8-10 people to get direct feedback from the aides on the best way to increase participation in the study. She hopes to include about 30 or more aides in the stress management intervention over a six-week data collection period.

Dr. Barry is working with a tech company that created an app called “Breathe,” where participants will be able to access meditation and breathing exercises lasting between 2-10 minutes either within or outside of work. The app will record measurements of how long and how many times the exercises are performed throughout the day. Funds from the Ellington Beavers Award will be used to purchase the rights to the app as well as provide some incentives for people participating in the study. 

“Money is not the reason people stay at these kinds of jobs,” said Dr. Barry. “These aides want to be respected, empowered, and have support from their supervisors at work, before asking for better pay and benefits.”

The turnover rate of aides working in long-term care facilities is extremely high. Dr. Barry hopes that this project will be the pilot for future studies that help to improve the quality of care within long-term care facilities by reducing turnover. This study is unique in that it shifts the focus from organizational changes to the individual by influencing levels of stress and empathy. 

“You can’t teach empathy; you have to provide opportunities for people to grow it from within,” said Dr. Barry. “The intervention will offer experiences where the aides can access and grow their own levels of empathy so they have something to offer to their residents. The research has shown that those who are more empathetic toward themselves offer more empathy to others. Where there is empathy, there is relationship and when aides have relationships with their residents, they are more committed to their job and less likely to quit. Lower turnover and better relationships lead to higher quality of care for residents.”

Dr. Barry plans to involve her students in some of the data collection to expose them to the field of research in healthcare administration. She wants to show students that research can be another way of helping people and improving the healthcare system.