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Shocker: Doctors Work When They're Sick

Take a sick day, doc.
Take a sick day, doc.

How do doctors work around so many ill people without getting sick? Well, they don't.

Even if they scrub their hands like crazy, which certainly helps, they succumb to germs every once in a while, just like the rest of us. And also like lots of the rest of us, they'll go to work sick, a survey of medical residents finds.

A little more than half of the 150 residents surveyed at an Illinois medical meeting in 2010 said they'd worked while having flu-like symptoms in the previous year. And about one-quarter said they'd done so at least three times.

Why? They were just being responsible. More than half — 56 percent — said they felt a responsibility to take care of their patients. Fifty-seven percent said they didn't want to make their colleagues cover for them.

The results were published in the latest Archives of Internal Medicine. In a note about them, Dr. Deborah Grady wrote:

"Working while sick may demonstrate an admirable sense of responsibility to patients and colleagues, but clinicians also need to worry about the real danger of infecting vulnerable patients as well as colleagues and staff."

Now, don't you sometimes feel the same way when the cougher in the next cube won't take a sick day? We did our own survey in 2010 and found that almost three-quarters of people had gone to work sick in the past year.

The top reason, cited by 25 percent of people, was that they wouldn't get paid for the absence. That was followed by people saying they weren't sick enough to stay home and "work ethic" came in third at 19 percent.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.