Many Doctors Work While Sick, And Some Do It More Than Five Times A Year

A new study from JAMA Pediatrics reports that many doctors and nurses will show up to work sick, even though they know it’s a major risk for their patients. There’s also a small amount that have shown up for work sick more than five times out of the year.

The study concludes that, in the past year, 83 percent of the 538 doctors and advanced practice clinicians (APC) surveyed said they have shown up for work sick at least one time. Of the 538 surveyed, 279 of them said they did it somewhere between two and four times, while 50 said they have done it more than five times out of the year.

More than 95 percent admitted they were aware that showing up to work sick would be a risk to their patients’ lives. The majority of those surveyed said they would show up to work with the general cough (74.5 percent), while 55.6 percent said they had other respiratory problems. Thirty percent of the doctors and APCs reportedly showed up with symptoms of diarrhea, and 16 percent had a fever.

During an open-ended response portion of the survey, doctors and APCs went into detail on why they had shown up for work sick. Nearly 65 percent responded by saying it’s due to “systems and logistics.” One mentioned that the place at which he or she works currently does not have any other physicians to cover for those who “call out sick.”

“So, on the occasions where I have called out sick, it was a disaster; patients were not called to reschedule, phone calls were not forwarded, etc. So, if I were sick in the future, I would have to make a decision about the risks of being contagious vs. the certain knowledge that my division will not appropriately handle me being out.”

Doctors Do Show Up To Work Sick

More than 61 percent responded by saying they were afraid to ask others to cover for them, or they were expected to show up unless the symptoms were “severe.” One person wrote he would rather deal with the hardships and risks of working while sick than getting someone to cover for him.

“There is an unspoken understanding that you probably should be on your deathbed if you are calling in sick. It inconveniences my colleagues, is complicated to pay back shifts, and makes me look bad to do so (like I am weak or something). It is much, much less stressful to suck it up and come in sick than call out.”

While talking to Reuters, Dr. Jeffrey R. Starke noted that there needs to be some system set up for the doctors who do have to call in sick for work.

“Most of us have policies restricting visitation by visitors who are ill, we screen them for signs or symptoms. Yet we don’t do the same thing for ourselves.”

Do you think doctors should have a system set up, so they don’t have to show up to work sick?

[Top photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]