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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

When the Doctor is Sick – and at Your Bedside

By Gary Evans, Senior Staff Writer

Driven by a traditional work culture that underscores their responsibility to patients and commitment to coworkers, a surprising number of surveyed physicians said they still report for duty when symptomatic and sick -- even with lab-confirmed influenza.

The unsettling findings1 were recently presented in San Diego at the 2015 IDWeek conference and will be fully detailed with author commentary in the December 2015 issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention. The upshot is that healthcare settings need to have clear policies involving physician leadership clarifying when not to report for duty.

In an anonymous electronic survey of medical students, residents, fellows, and attending physicians, 96% said they would work despite cold symptoms; 78% would report despite diarrhea; 55% despite vomiting; and a surprising 36% despite test-confirmed influenza.

It goes without saying that physicians working with an infectious disease pose risks to patients and coworkers. Of course, as physicians, the respondents were presumably well aware of this. Yet less tangible factors combine to coerce doctors — particularly those with less training — not to miss work even if sick. For example, there were significant differences in willingness to work ill by training level, with more experienced physicians less likely to show up sick. Young doctors in training may feel more pressure due to possible negative perceptions of missed work and the consequences of having colleagues work harder in their absence, the researchers noted.


1. Trunong KK, Huang, SA, Dickey Linda, et al. Do no Harm: Attitudes among Physicians and Trainees about Working when Ill. IDWeek. Session 53. HAI: Occupational Health. San Diego, CA. Oct.7-11, 2015.