TUESDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) — More than 50 percent of
resident doctors report that they have worked at least once when they were
sick with flu-like symptoms.
And 16 percent said they worked sick at least three times in the past
year, a new survey finds.
“Earlier studies showed that residents come to work when they are sick,
and we wanted to find out why do they work when they’re sick,” said survey
co-author Dr. Vineet Arora, associate professor of medicine at the
University of Chicago.
One possibility was they are forced to work when they’re sick and
another is that it might be part of their professional work ethic, she
“We are taught to put the patients’ needs before our own, but that
sometimes can be detrimental to both the patient and the doctor,” Arora
The reason that most residents said they worked when they were sick was
because they didn’t want to inconvenience their colleagues, but also they
felt a strong allegiance to the patient, she said. And that feeling was
strongest among those who had been residents longer.
“A lot of people accuse this generation of not being professional and
putting their needs above the patient’s needs,” Arora said. “But here’s an
example of the old-school work ethic at play.”
The downside to working while sick is that one can make others,
patients included, sick and oneself sicker, she said. “In addition, your
judgment may be clouded and you may not make the best decisions,” she
Press said there needs to be an environment that allows residents to
stay out when they’re sick and assess their ability to work. “In addition,
residents should feel they can take the day off when they are sick,” she
The report was published in the June 18 online edition of the
Archives of Internal Medicine.
For the study, Arora and colleagues surveyed 150 residents, asking
whether or not they worked when they were sick.
Seventy-seven said they had worked at least once when they had flu-like
symptoms and 24 said they worked while sick at least three times.
Dr. Deborah Grady, who wrote an accompanying editor’s note in the
journal, said that “it’s likely that doctors tend to work while they’re
sick more than they probably should.”
“At the same time, it’s more dangerous for doctors to work when they’re
sick,” said Grady, associate dean for clinical and translational research
and director of the Women’s Health Clinical Research Center at the
University of California, San Francisco.
Doctors who do this run the risk of passing their flu or cold on to
patients, some of whom are frail and elderly, Grady said. Since the cause
of the illness usually isn’t known, the consequences could be more serious
if it’s not just a cold. “Most doctors would stay home if they have a
fever, but that’s not really a great way to tell how sick you are,” she
“Doctors feel compelled to work if they don’t feel well,” Grady said.
“If they don’t, then they have to cancel appointments and somebody has to
cover for [them]. So, we feel a responsibility to work even if we don’t
feel very well.”
For more information on caring for yourself when sick with the flu,
visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.