survey an alarming number of medical professionals work while sick

It’s a question most people have grappled with at one point or another during the course of their professional career: Am I too sick to go to work today?

The unfortunate reality is even though the answer to this question was probably a resounding yes, many people nevertheless made the choice to drag themselves into their respective workplaces, putting their own well-being and perhaps even that of colleagues at risk.

The reasons as to why people feel compelled to go to work despite being sick run the gamut from fearing their absence will somehow be held against them to simply feeling compelled to “tough it out.”

Interestingly enough, a recently published study in JAMA Pediatrics determined the medical community is not actually immune to this phenomenon either.

As part of the study, researchers sent an anonymous survey to 929 employees at a Philadelphia-based children’s hospital, including 459 attending physicians and 470 advanced practice clinicians (nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse anesthetists, etc.).

Breaking down the 280 responses received from physicians and 256 responses from APCs, the researchers found the following:

  • 95 percent recognized they knew working while ill could endanger patients.
  • 83 percent indicated they nevertheless worked while suffering from a contagious condition at least once over the last year.
  • 9 percent indicated they nevertheless worked while suffering from a contagious condition at least five times over the last year.

Why are medical professionals, whom you would imagine would know better, choosing to work while sick?

While many respondents indicated they felt an obligation to their patients and didn’t want to put more pressure on their already overworked colleagues, many also cited a sort of systemic pressure.

Specifically, while they acknowledged a sort of unspoken peer pressure to work through an illness, they also acknowledged being motivated by a system that bases pay and other incentives on productivity. In other words, they feel they are jeopardizing their ability to earn if they aren’t working.

The researchers wisely conclude real change in this area — and in keeping patients safer — can only come through a change in the culture among medical professionals and, more significantly, a change in the work culture that “supports a paid sick leave policy that is adequate and nonpunitive.”

What are your thoughts on this subject? Would you rather have to reschedule your appointment with your physicians because they are sick, or are you OK with seeing them while they are sick provided they warn you beforehand?

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