Many Doctors Work While Sick

Despite the risk to patients, new research from JAMA Pediatrics finds that many doctors and health care professionals still report to work when they’re sick.

Researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia conducted a small, anonymous survey of the hospital’s physicians and advanced practice clinicians (APCs). APCs include certified registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists and certified nurse midwives. The researchers received 280 responses from attending physicians and 256 responses from APCs.

The survey results indicated that 446 respondents, or 83.1 percent, had reported to work even though they were sick at least once in the past year. Furthermore, 50 respondents, or 9.3 percent, reported working while sick at least five times. These numbers were reported despite the fact that majority of the respondents—504 or 95.3 percent—believe working while sick could put patients at risk. The type of symptoms they reported while being sick and working included diarrhea, fever, and a range of respiratory complications.

So why do they continue to work anyways? According to the survey results, 98.7 percent were worried about letting down their colleagues, 94.9 percent were concerned about staffing, 92.5 percent didn’t want to disappoint patients, 64 percent were worried how they would be viewed by their colleagues, and 63.8 percent were concerned how their absence would affect the continuity of their patients’ care. These concerns were solidified by written comments that expressed logistical obstacles in having someone cover for them, lack of staff and resources, pressure from hospital culture to continue working, and confusion over what constitutes as being too sick to work.

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