Doctors Have No Time For Sick Days

ID-100186938Imagine that you have caught a mild case of the flu and decide to see your doctor for a checkup. Upon visiting your doctor, you notice that your doctor appears to be sicker than you are. Your doctor comes in with a runny nose, pale eyes, and is constantly coughing and yet seems more than ready to give you your medications. As bizarre as this case may sound, it is actually not as uncommon as you may think. In fact, as many as 80 percent of physicians work through their own ailments. Anyone familiar with the medical world knows that hospitals are prone to bacteria resistant strains. It is because hospitals have so many forms of antibiotics that bacteria are able to mutate and become drug resistant. Yet despite knowing this, why would a doctor who is sick still come in to work to treat his patients?

From day one in medical training, there is an unspoken message that calling in sick is for wimps. There is a sense of culture in our society that coming to work sick is a part of the practice of medicine.  This culture driven society is widely accepted, as patients would like to have dedicated doctors come in to serve them. Patients scheduling appointments weeks or even months in advance are often rescheduled either to a different day or put under someone else’s schedule if a doctor has called in sick. Upon brief notice, patients usually don’t get the proper diagnose they deserve, as other physicians can’t grasp enough time to assess everyone in their tightly packed schedule. Thus, most doctors ignore their symptoms and resist taking the day off to assist their patients.

Calling in sick is also very consequential in the medical field.  Some hospitals have been reported to fire hospital employees who take too many sick days.  Well-known hospital’s internal medicine services are allotted two sick days per year.  Not only that, but some workers even receive compensations for perfect attendance. With a 30% increase in the cost of absenteeism in the last two years, workers are encouraged more than ever not to take days off from work. Such cases like Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore paid $1.4 million in sick time in the year 2002.

Working while you’re sick is often glorified in the medical world. Risks versus benefits are often assessed as doctors have to question whether calling in sick would damage the interest of the patient.  What will happen if you do not work?  What is the risk to your patients? Will the patient have an applicable doctor to cover for you? All these questions are of great concern to the patient and especially the doctor. Self-sacrifice is proof of a doctor’s dedication and professionalism. The mentality of “us” versus “them” often surfaces in the mind of a doctor. “Illness is what we do, not who we are. We define ourselves by vanquishing illness, not succumbing to it.” The simple logic being coming in sick causes fewer problems than being absent.

However over the last few years, researches have begun to question this belief. More in-depth studies on presenteeism by business researchers in the past couple years show a significantly different trend. Presenteeism is the act of attending work while sick. As it turns out, research show that presenteeism cost companies more than 150 billion a year in lost worker productivity which is substantially more than absenteeism. Despite doctors passing on illness to colleagues or even worse patients, presenteeism significantly lowers work productivity. This makes sense as if you simply don’t feel good you will not perform to the best of your ability. With migraine headaches, experiencing of blurred vision or sensitivity to light, you will probably have a hard time focusing on a computer screen. In which is a crucial ability to do correctly if you are in the medical field. Medical errors are the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. all which is in fact preventable. With a death toll that high, you could imagine all the factors attributing to this.

In 2005 an outbreak of the norovirus stomach bug occurred in a nursing home. Infected staff members and patients were all succumbed to the virus. Staff members felt ill with constant diarrhea and/or vomiting. Yet despite infectious symptoms, staff members continued to come to work while feeling ill. This undoubtedly may have prolonged the outbreak as transferring of virus seemed redundant. Another case featured a physician in the Midwest who was symptomatic with an active form of tuberculosis and continued to work which he thought was persistent bronchitis. This error in diagnoses led to an even bigger problem as respiratory disease outbreaks increase attack rate for infection.  Influenza goes up to 45 percent, respiratory syncytial virus goes up 50 percent, and adenovirus goes up 25 percent.

It is true that a doctor’s duty is to the patient; however a doctor is no different from a patient in which he or she may become sick. Doctors are not immune to infectious diseases as they run the same biological system as anyone else. Finding solutions to this problem is not as easy as it sounds but we must change the nature in which we think about this. This silent rule of “calling in sick is for wimps” needs to be diminished as we should not condition our doctors to work through their own sickness. Rules and regulations should also be addressed as two-day-only sick rule is not needed in our society. Getting sick is a natural phenomenon and has dire consequences if not attended to correctly.  We can also look to keep our doctors healthy. During a 2005-06 flu outbreak, only 42% of healthcare workers got vaccinated.  During any outbreak there should be a mandatory flu shot requirement before patient contact occurs. As previously discussed, the risks of working while sick severely outweigh the benefits of the patient.  In any case though, doctors need to learn to treat themselves before attending to the aid of others.

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2 Comments to “Doctors Have No Time For Sick Days”

  1. I honestly would not go to any other doctor than the one I’ve been visiting. I totally understand that rest is important when it comes to dealing with a sickness. At the same time, I would dread having my appointment cancelled or rescheduled. At the clinic I go to, a patient has to make an appointment at least 2 months in advance just for a check up. As extreme as this sounds, a cancellation or a 2 month delay can result in a patients’ condition getting worse and in a worst case scenario – death. Illnesses such as Tetanus, where the symptoms can some times be subtle, may go unnoticed without a simple check-up from a doctor. 10% of all tetanus reported cases resulted in death. One simple check up can get you a vaccination. One simple examination can save a life. Forget money. When we think of it in these simple terms, we can understand why doctors continue to go to work in spite of their sicknesses.

  2. I agree with you that the whole, “calling in sick is for wimps” mentality is problematic. A doctor’s main concern should be the health of their patient, however these compensations for perfect attendance make coming in sick more a matter of money. If a doctor really cared, they wouldn’t expose their patient to whatever illness they may suffer from. Another doctor would more than likely suffice for check-ups, and if not then a delay of a couple of days most likely would. Doctors have it hard enough, they shouldn’t also have to face the pressure of pleasing everyone even while being sick.

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