Doctors and healthcare workers are definitely heroic, but does forgoing a sick day to treat other patients put our health at risk?
We’ve all gone into work with a questionable contagious cold. Weeks of planning for a presentation will not be unraveled by a case of the sniffles. Plus, it’s not like we’re putting anyone’s health at serious risk, right? Well, apparently, the line between too risky and safe isn’t quite that clear, as eight out of 10 doctors admit to working while sick even though they know it puts patients (and colleagues) at risk, according to a new survey published in JAMA Pediatrics. (7 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore.)
And while this seems wildly irresponsible, the docs' reasons are really the same as any of ours: 98 percent said they came into work in poor health because they didn’t want to let their colleagues down; 95 percent were concerned there wouldn’t be enough staff to cover if they called out; and 93 percent didn't want to let patients down.
“For centuries, a guiding principle for health care workers has been primum non nocere, or first do no harm,” explains a corresponding editorial in the same journal. “Although this adage has been applied mostly to therapeutic interventions, it also infers that health care workers should not spread infections to their patients, especially the most vulnerable patients.” (Viruses Only Need 2 Hours to Spread.)
It’s more than just about spreading infections, though: Not being able to take a day to rest can lead to job burnout among medical professionals, the study authors suggest. And since we all know how hard it is to do your office job properly when you’re burnt out, this isn’t exactly something we want the people caring for our health to feel. (Find out Why Burnout Should be Taken Seriously.)
The good news? While the vast majority of M.D.s and R.N.s come in under the weather once per year, most don’t make it a habit, with less than 10 percent owning up to working while sick even five times a year.